Consistently funny and self-aware, Guardians 2 elevates the misfit group from its first outing because a tighter plot and contained narrative.
Over the last couple of years, each Marvel film has just seemed like a set-up for the next one, full of different plants and pay-offs from previous films in a tangled web of characters and cameos across multiple works. It’s been one of my biggest problems with these films, the fact that occasionally they do not stand on their own, only acting as a piece in the bigger puzzle in what’s been created. I can’t criticize the fact that the MCU exists, but rather than I wished the movies were more stand-alone. The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie suffered from a very similar flaw. We got to know our five main characters who did such an excellent job playing off each other with witty dialogue, but then we got to the third act, where we had an Infinity Stone introduced and a villain that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things except to show us Thanos and the Purple Stone.
The formula that exists goes down to the very tone that the movies set for their three act structure. The first two acts are usually funny and self-aware. There’re jokes and punchlines, but then, in the Third Act (often to either shoehorn in a larger MCU element or showcase some action) we get away from the formula. One of the criticisms that even Marvel fans agree is valid is that these movies don’t tend to have great villains, there isn’t enough of a serious set-up for it to have any tension. The first two acts, because they are character centered, really get into the minds of our superheroes and bring up questions about their feelings and goals, their drives and desires. When the villain is introduced, that all goes away so that our guys can fight! Yeah!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II circumvents this formulaic approach and turns in a really special action-comedy that is up with the MCU’s best offerings. Now, I’ve previously praised films in the MCU that are less popular just because they’re different (see Iron-Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron), so if you love the ‘Captain America’ films and enjoy the formula, you may think that Guardians 2 is a weaker offering. That’s fine. However, for someone that desires a little something extra in my superhero films, I definitely got it from this entry.
The biggest unanswered question in the first Guardians movie was the parentage of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Our team linked up and stopped the faceless baddie from using the Infinity Stone, but the question about Quill’s father remained unanswered (his mother died of cancer on Earth when he was a baby, so he began working alongside the ‘Ravagers’ led by Yondu (Michael Rooker) as a criminal/scavenger.) Here, we find out the answer to our question in Kurt Russell’s Ego. Once father and son link up, questions about Quill’s place in the universe take front and center.
The rest of the team is going through their own struggles. Groot (Vin Diesel) was destroyed at the end of the first film, so he now takes the form of a toddler walking around these action sets, the direction mining his inexperience and lack of practical intelligence for plenty of laughs. Drax (Dave Bautista) is still suffering after the death of his wife and child from Ronan in the last film, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is beginning to feel the stress of being picked on the most out of the five. As for Gamora (Zoe Saldana), her struggle with her vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) continues.
I don’t want to give away too much else about the plot for two reasons. The first is that certain character designations are too important to the plot to give away for fear of spoilers, and the second is that the plot doesn’t matter. That’s what makes this such an improvement. The film, instead of doing the two acts of jokes, one act of seriousness, foregoes any pretension of having a serious third act and instead makes the entire movie a laugh-out-loud comedy. It still has the action and science fiction elements that make the Guardians films a little different, but they ramp up the comedy into being the main genre of this one. Frankly, I think that works better than trying to cram in a serious villain and serious plot consequences. Instead, we stick with the characters and their mindsets for the entire film. The villain himself is more representative of an internal struggle than external, and I was fine with that. It decided to not be sloppy and link this film to another MCU movie, instead telling a self-contained narrative that doesn’t have implications for where the rest of the films go. There will be a Guardians 3, sure, but it doesn’t appear like it will be super tied to the other Marvel entries.
James Gunn has really won me over as a director, and the script here is just laced with funny jokes and one-liners, and he’s able to mine physical situations for consistent comedy, even when the characters are in a tense situation. The movie stays tonally consistent as playful and bombastic, and I laughed through the entire thing. Can I praise a movie for being really, really stupid? Yes. I think I will. The action and effects are good too, its budget shows, that’s for sure.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II (2017)
Genre: SciFi/Fantasy (but it’s really a Comedy)
Director: James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither, Super)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, and Bradley Cooper
with: Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, and Sylvester Stallone
RT Score: 81%