Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): SPOILER Review
THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS! CAUTION...
I have found myself completely buying in to the world of superhero films these days. Especially those released by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I don't know if its because they comic book news dominates most of the websites I look at or what but needless to say Guardians 2 was one of my most highly anticipated films of 2017. At the start of the year it was second on my "most anticipated list" behind only The Last Jedi.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy has been widely recognized as one of the strongest films in the MCU to date. Its really been only 3 years since these characters were minor and obscure characters in the Marvel universe but the success of the first installment propelled them into A list status and for good reason. Chris Pratt became a movie star as Star-Lord and the franchise as a whole became one of the most beloved among the MCU.
Its been 3 years since we last saw the Guardians as they have yet to cross over with the main group of Avengers who have been dominating the last few years in the Marvel universe. Vol. 2 picks up shortly after the ending of the first film. It takes place in 2014 which is obviously the same year as the first entry.
First off, I'll make it perfectly clear that I really enjoyed this film. Its the fun humorous blockbuster that most fans hope it will be. The characters are still very enjoyable and James Gunn continues to explore this wild world in a way few Marvel directors have been able to. That said, its not a rival of the first film and it really didn't need to be. Its another welcome addition to the MCU with some flaws.
The film opens with a de-aged Kurt Russell running around Earth with Peter Quill's mother in 1980. The de-aging technology continues to advance and I felt like Kurt's looked the most legitimate out of the other Marvel attempts with Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. It looks like the classic Snake Plissken we all know and love as he plants this alien plant on Earth with is obviously foreshadowing the reveal that we get later.
Cut to the Guardians who are just about to battle with a large CGI bash of a creature but in an original event we get to watch Baby Groot dance to ELO's Mr. Blue Sky while the rest of his teammates fight the creature out of focus in the background. Its a great indicator of what we are going to get with this film as it tends to mirror Peter's dance scene in the start of the film.
Guardians 2 has a very tough story to explain without going into spoilers because the story is probably the weakest element of the film as there really isn't a whole lot of plot all together. The main storyline certainly does have a consistent theme though... Family. Peter Quill meets his dad for the first time quite early in the film. I couldn't tell you how excited I was to hear that Kurt Russell was joining the MCU as Ego the Living Planet and Peter Quill's dad just seems like a perfect role for him as it almost feels like he and Chris Pratt could be father and son in real life. We've been seeing a Russell revival in his last few roles and he's returned to the badass that we knew him as in his starring roles in the 80s and 90s. Russell just bleeds cool early on in the film and he's still just as awesome as he's ever been.
Ego meets the Guardians with his ally Mantis who is also a new character played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis has an ability to read people's feelings and she's able to change someone's emotions for short time. Mantis doesn't get explored as much as I would like her to. She spends a lot of time with Drax onscreen and Drax is also somewhat shortchanged as a character, but they still have some fun moments. Quill has some doubt that the man he has met is actually his father and it takes some convincing from Zoe Saldana's Gamora to motivate Quill to travel with Ego to his planet (which is his true form). Drax and Gamora accompany Quill on this trip meaning that the Guardians group finds itself split up and unfortunately that is the way it stays for a lot of the film.
I caught wind that Ego was going to be the film's villain before I actually saw the movie and I thought the idea of Quill's father being the villain was a great plot point. As it turns out Ego has been using his alien plants to take over other planets but he wasn't quite able to take over the galaxy without help from his son so he's spent his time searching for Peter in order to bring him back to his planet and help him grow his own empire of planets. Ego feels that its his purpose to take control of the galaxy which is really a compliment to him as the villain because the character really doesn't see himself as a villain he just wants to know what his reason for living is and he came to conclusion that taking over the galaxy is that reason. Ego doesn't value other lives as much as his own because he has been living for millions of years and a human life is just a speck of dirt on his shoe over the course of his long life. That whole element worked really well for me but its when Ego reveals that it was actually him who placed the tumor in Quill's mother's brain that lost me. It had been hinted from very early in the film that Ego was bad news (almost too early) but the moment that the reveal comes really changes Ego very sharply as a character and I did feel empathic towards him anymore. Its also revealed that Ego had tried to have children with some other species as well but he wasn't able to have a child that harness his power and without the kids unable to carry on his legacy he would decide to kill his children. Its a very dark moment. It was from that moment that it became obvious that Ego was going to die at the hands of the Guardians and I just didn't think that it had to be that way. I was hoping for a Return of the Jedi style redemption that meant we got to see Kurt Russell as an ally of Quill in another Guardians of the Galaxy film instead he becomes another throwaway Marvel villain who is evil for the sake of evil. Russell isn't even clearly revealed as the villain until basically the third act. It almost feels like that is where the movie truly starts because apart from some character moments the plot isn't really moving.
Quill's storyline takes up a lot of the movie but the character development still works fairly well even if the story doesn't. Each character still has a bit of an arc with Michael Rooker's Yondu possibly been the most fully realized character in the film. He is deserted by the ravagers and ends up questioning his existence. Gunn forces a few things with his character that aren't quite earned including Yondu basically saying his was Quill's father which didn't really feel earned. Yondu was trying to kill Quill in the last film and now all the sudden he see's him as his son? There were a few circumstances where I felt Gunn conveniently changed the characters. Drax felt like a completely difference character than he was in the first film. I think that his form of humor really worked for the audience the first time and Gunn noticed this an gave him a more comedic role but he isn't delivering on the same type of jokes this time around. His inability to notice sarcasm and taking things too literally isn't really the source of his humor anymore and I missed that.
I was glad that they gave Gamora a little more to do with Nebula this time because I'm frankly sick of the cheap Marvel romances that they force on the audience and having the female characters exist just for the sake of romance has gotten really lame. There are a few moments with her and Quill but they kept the romance to a minimum and I respected that. Gamora then has her own family drama (keeping the family theme) and the rivalry between her and her sister Nebula. Nebula gets explored a lot more as a character in one great scene where she explains that she always felt inferior to her sister and that's really powerful.
Rocket and Groot find themselves paired up a lot with Yondu and I thought that was a really fun trio. Rocket didn't seem like he had a whole lot to do but Gunn does try to weave a little of family plot into Rocket as well. He and Quill are struggling to get along but there is still some love between these two "brothers". What Rocket lacks in development he makes up for with really great jokes so I can forgive that.
Sylvester Stallone was revealed to be in the movie fairly early on in production and I was expecting him to have a more important role in the film just because he is Stallone. He appears in 3 scenes, one of which is a post credit scene. I really didn't feel like the character of Starhawk needed to be Sylvester Stallone. In the post credit scene Stallone appears with his own group including Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh. That may be a tease that they will appear in the third movie in this franchise which has already been announced. Otherwise I really didn't have any use for Sly hanging around this time.
I know that when every MCU film is released it seems to matter where the new addition ranks in the total scale of the Marvel universe of films. If I were to rank it I'm thinking that Vol. 2 would fall towards the middle or the bottom. Its an improvement over the last addition which would be Doctor Strange but I think Spider-Man: Homecoming was a better MCU addition this year and hopefully Thor: Ragnarok will impress as well. It still a really enjoyable film overall but I still had a lot of criticisms. If you're on the fence about whether you should see this film or not I think you definitely should. I've even heard some people mention that this is their preferred film over the two in the franchise. I really respect James Gunn's effort as director here because I think he was given an impossible task of following up his excellent first film and he managed to deliver a really good one. I may not hold it in as high regard as the first movie but I can see myself rewatching this and giving it a bit of a longer leash.
The family theme felt a little spoon-fed to me but I can still buy it. It earns it more than Fast & Furious does. I just don't think Gunn can continue to force the conflict between the group anymore. Quill obviously leans that the Guardians have been his family all along and he didn't really need Ego in the fist place. Finally, it takes Yondu's death to show Quill what he has taken for granted and it is a good end to that character arc for Yondu although you can see his death coming from a mile away. Gunn dwells in it a little too much as well.
The soundtrack was big part of the first film with a lot of upbeat 70s pop making up Quill's awesome mix. Now Gunn handcuffed himself into delivering another great soundtrack and it does deliver for the most part, but he was never going to replicate the success of the first soundtrack. I also have to compliment the score which is really good despite being overshadowed by the soundtrack. I still picked up a copy of it on CD because its still a worthy mix. It just won't be on replay like the first one
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gets 70 out of 100.