The thing that amazed me about the overall response to the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY film 3 years ago wasn’t so much how great the film actually was, or even how awesome (intentional pun #1) the soundtrack was. Rather, it was the mere fact that Marvel Studios took the Guardians of the Galaxy – a faction many comic book fans previously ranked as “D-List” Marvel characters – and turned them, seemingly overnight, into a multi-million dollar franchise. After the rousing success of the first film, a sequel was inevitable; and now, 3 years later, it has finally arrived.
Set only a few months after the events of the previous film, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 commences with the eponymous group – comprised of Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), Drax (played by Dave Bautista), Rocket (played by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (played by Vin Diesel) – protecting a valuable battery mine on the planet Sovereign from an inter-galactic monster. Once the monster is defeated, the Sovereigns repay them by releasing Gamora’s sister Nebula (played by Karen Gillan) from captivity. As the group departs, Rocket admits to stealing some of the Sovereign’s batteries for himself. Not long after, a fleet of Sovereign drones surround them and begin to attack. After a spectacular and effects-laden chase sequence (with a nice little homage to STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK included), the Sovereigns’ ships are single-handedly defeated by a mysterious being. After landing on the nearby planet Berhert, the mysterious being reveals himself as Ego (played by Kurt Russell) – the father of Peter Quill.
The biggest immediate takeaway coming out of the theater (as was for the first one) was the incredible chemistry between the leads. Chris Pratt continues to impress as the sarcastic and somewhat naïve Star-Lord, playing most of the film against either Zoe Saldana’s tough but reserved Gamora or Kurt Russell’s extroverted Ego. Dave Bautista has some great one-liners as Drax and has the charisma to pull them off, making them instant laugh-out-loud hits. Another layer is added to Rocket’s character, seemingly giving the audience a reason why his attitude is the way it is, and Bradley Cooper’s voicework helps sell this character development really well. And of course – how can I even mention the rest of the characters without bringing up how absolutely adorable Baby Groot is – a great job by James Gunn and crew to capitalize on the equity that Groot earned with audiences 3 years ago and upping the ante into just the cutest “marketing strategy” I’ve ever seen. Even the trailer (showing Baby Groot struggling to remember which button to push) is evidence that Gunn was gunning (intentional pun #2) for Baby Groot to bring the “aww” factor into play, and it’s a strategy that’s most certainly paid off.
Despite all those great performances (including a cool Sylvester Stallone appearance), the character and performance that I was most impressed with – without a doubt – was Michael Rooker as Yondu. A mere side-character in the previous film, Rooker’s Yondu gets some great development here and his connection to Peter Quill is explored well beyond the “I saved you from being eaten” line that Yondu liked to throw at Quill. James Gunn really gives Yondu some great scenes that allow us to see a different range on the character, and Rooker most definitely takes those scenes and runs with them. Yondu has some epic scenes with Rocket, Baby Groot, and Star-Lord that allow the audience to really embrace the character, and by the end of the film, we are able to do just that. And it’s due not only to the brilliant writing by James Gunn, but also by the wonderful performance by Michael Rooker, that Yondu is able to make that leap from side-character to favorite all in one fell swoop.
Like the previous film, the action sequences are very well done and do a great job of adding excitement and tension to the film. There is some terrific special effects work done here, especially during the asteroid field sequence. There really isn’t any specific scene that stands out as something that’s “better” than the first film. If I had to pick one, I would say the climactic battle sequence did a good job of combining humor, awesome effects, tension, and excitement. But was it necessarily better than anything we’ve seen before (in this film and its predecessor)? Not exactly.
On a similar note, the film’s soundtrack (naturally titled “Awesome Mix Vol. 2”) as some really great old-school tracks featuring artists such as Electric Light Orchestra, Sweet, Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, and George Harrison, among others. And as awesome (intentional pun #3) as this soundtrack is, is it necessarily better than Vol. 1? Again, not exactly. But that’s okay, because this is yet another soundtrack that I can enjoy listening to from start to finish without wanting to skip any tracks; just like Vol. 1, this is a soundtrack that can really be enjoyed straight-through.
With that being said, overall, is GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 a better film than its predecessor? That all depends on you, the viewer. I’ve talked to different people and read/watched many different reviews, and everyone has a different response – some like it more than the first film, some still like the first film better, and others are indifferent about both of them. But I haven’t come across many people who don’t like this film, and that’s the key – no matter what side of the spectrum you stand on comparing both films, the bottom line is that, one way or another, you will come out of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 liking this film. Why? Because it has everything that made the first film great – wacky, exciting characters, awesome special effects, a stimulating story, and most of all, it’s FUN. And really, are you strong enough to resist the charms of the adorable Baby Groot? Me thinks not, so it’s best you head to your local movie theater and check out GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 for yourself – you’ll thank me later.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
2017 • 136 Minutes • United States
Color • English • Marvel Studios
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell