It’s hard to remember a time when most of the world was oblivious to the existence of the Guardians of the Galaxy. A team of cosmic anti-heroes from Marvel Comics lore who have undergone more than one revision since their introduction in the 1960’s, the Guardians got their big break in 2014, with easily one of the best dark horse hit movies of the year in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, the entire world seems to have fallen hard for the Guardians, as Star-Lord, Groot, Drax, Gamora and Rocket have become just as synonymous with the Marvel brand as The Avengers, Spider-Man or the X-Men.

That puts a huge heap of expectations on the long-awaited movie sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which has to build on an ingenious concoction of B-movie ridiculousness and colourful blockbuster power, the exact blend of which ended up producing a genuine masterpiece in 2014. Thankfully though, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to measure up to the lofty pedigree of its predecessor pretty well! It makes enough changes to the formula to feel like a distinct sequel that doesn’t ever re-tread the previous movie, but fortunately, it also doesn’t forsake the colourful and irreverent foundation that made the original movie such a surprise hit as well.

Mind you, there are a couple of caveats amidst all of the hype, namely that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t as tightly paced as the first movie, and is more of an especially amusing, over-the-top character piece than a relentlessly exciting action blockbuster. That’s certainly fine, though it’s possible that certain viewers may prefer the first movie over this sequel, even though they will still highly enjoy this follow-up. Even with its drawn-out middle stretch and just slightly less fun soundtrack though, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another superb offering from Marvel Studios, and one that starts 2017’s Summer blockbuster season off with an appropriate bang!

CHARACTERS

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and a new ‘baby’ version of Groot all return for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and virtually all of them are given an interesting new character direction in the sequel. I can’t go over every turn for want of avoiding spoilers, of course, though I will say that each Guardian is just as appealing as they were in the first movie, especially with some new emotional depths mined from their characters here. Many of the character arcs still have a heavy basis in humour as well, with the laughs noticeably cranked up even further in this sequel, due to the Guardians’ rapport and anti-hero sensibilities being fully established now.

As you can imagine however, a huge part of this sequel’s over-arching storyline centers on Star-Lord most of all, as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finally answers the question of who Star-Lord’s father is. That would be Ego, played by Kurt Russell, a character that Marvel fans would recognize as a large-scale cosmic character in Marvel Comics lore, though again, for want of avoiding spoilers, I sadly can’t discuss much about him. I will say however that the buildup to the other half of Star-Lord’s parentage is well-earned, especially as Russell makes Ego both majestic and vaguely comical, making him a believable patriarch to the Guardians’ human leader.

A few other foil characters also return from the first movie, namely Michael Rooker’s Yondu, and Karen Gillan’s Nebula. The Guardians end up back in both of their crosshairs, which is related to two all-new villains, those being Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha, and Chris Sullivan’s Taserface. Ayesha is the catalyst to the movie’s proper conflict, when the Guardians cross her arrogant race, The Sovereign, and must flee to new frontiers. The Sovereign, a race of seemingly flawless and beautiful golden people, naturally clash pretty well with the rough and raw sensibilities of the Guardians, which makes them enjoyable foes, even if they don’t stand out any more than most Marvel Studios villains. The same is true of Taserface, who is more connected to the Ravagers that Star-Lord started out with, and no, the movie doesn’t waste time mocking his ridiculous name from Marvel Comics lore.

The final new major character addition in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that can be touched upon is Mantis, played by up-and-coming Canadian actress, Pom Klementieff. Another modern Guardians mainstay in Marvel Comics lore, Mantis is introduced in this movie as a companion of Ego, being an adorable, innocent alien with the ability to sense and alter emotions. Her lack of real exposure to the larger world beyond Ego’s care and dominion over emotions alike make her an unlikely friend to Drax, and one of the cornerstones of Drax’s story arc in this movie, just as Yondu plays into the main Rocket/Groot storyline, while Nebula of course builds this movie’s Gamora storyline. Even without the presence of Thanos or the Infinity Stones, both of which are completely absent in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, this sequel takes the characters to new dimensions of interest and development, allowing the group to function wholly independently from the rest of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe threat for at least this movie.

PLOT

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a movie that benefits from viewers knowing as little as possible about the storyline going in. There are more than a few twists and turns in the movie, which takes the story to deeper and more unexpected places, now that the Guardians have been established in the MCU after the first movie. As I said, the over-arching conflict brings all of the Guardians to the forefront in different ways, even if ‘Baby Groot’ is largely treated as an adorable sidekick to Rocket this time, rather than his own separate character. Still, the discovery of Star-Lord’s genetic history, and the new obstacle of the Sovereign, do create some fun and exciting new conflicts for the Guardians to battle against.

That said though, the movie does contain most of its excitement in the first and third acts. The second act meanwhile is slower-paced and sometimes feels unfocused, due to how much ground it’s trying to cover in having to establish a larger cosmic lore for the MCU. You at least get some standout action in the starting and climactic portions of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though the middle portion may suffer from some dull spots for people who are less than devout Guardians of the Galaxy fans, from the previous movie or Marvel Comics lore. Even during the slower stretches though, a standout presentation and lots of enjoyable humour nonetheless make this sequel plenty entertaining, and prevent it from ever feeling like it’s simply wasting the audience’s time.

(NOTE: The spoiler section, when clicked, discusses new surprise cosmic character additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, any potential connection to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies or storylines, and the significance of a series of small post-credits scenes.)

Spoiler
If you’re hoping that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 moves toward integrating its titular characters more into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, you may be disappointed, since the movie is actually even more disconnected from the rest of the MCU than its predecessor was. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 even takes place a mere three months after the first movie, meaning that it still unfolds in 2014, and thus, precedes major MCU events like the Sokovia Accords and the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. Thus, it wouldn’t really make sense to link this movie with more recent MCU story developments and characters, meaning that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 instead focuses on building a bigger cosmic lore foundation in its own corner of the MCU. Also, with Thanos and the Infinity Stones being absent in this sequel, there is no connection or setup whatsoever for next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, even in the post-credits scenes.

Fans of the specific cosmic element of the Marvel Universe however are in for some great teases, especially with another cameo from Howard the Duck earlier in the movie. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 actually depicts the original 31st Century rendition of the Guardians from the 1960’s Marvel Comics run towards the end, who have ties to the current Ravagers. Sylvester Stallone’s mystery role is actually that of original Guardians member, Starhawk on this note, while Ving Rhames, Michael Rosenbaum and Michelle Yeoh also make surprise cameos as Charlie-27, Aleta Ogord and Martinex, respectively. The post-credits scenes don’t foreshadow any new movies with these characters though, sadly, and instead largely focus on humourous outros for the movie’s surviving leads.

You might also be surprised to know that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s post-credits scenes don’t really link to the rest of the MCU at all. One calls back to this movie’s Stan Lee cameo, which is bound to be a favourite among avid Marvel fans, as he recounts the stories of his other cameos to the Watchers, strengthening fan speculation that Stan Lee portrays passive alien character, Uatu in the MCU. The only post-credits scene that does set up future Marvel Studios movies is a brief look at a defeated Ayesha, who looks upon a technological cocoon and talks about building the next phase of Sovereign evolution, which she will call, “Adam.” This is an obvious tease for Marvel’s cosmic anti-hero, Adam Warlock to join the MCU, with writer/director, James Gunn already confirming that this is a setup for the recently-confirmed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

DIRECTION

James Gunn returns to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 once again, leading to another well-crafted and polished follow-up to the already fantastic original movie. Now completely free of any obligation to the rest of the MCU in this sequel, Gunn goes for broke in laying new building blocks for the MCU’s cosmic lore and personalities, while also diving deeper into what drives the Guardians and makes them tick. As much as this is a very entertaining and colourful sequel, it also has surprising moments of drama and darkness here and there as well, widening the scale of Guardians of the Galaxy and its characters as an independent property, even when this comes at the cost of Gunn forsaking the opportunity to link this sequel’s events with any other Marvel Studios movies.

Still, Gunn should be commended for not trying to ride the coattails of other Marvel Studios works in this sequel, even the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. After rocketing the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise to triple-A Marvel stardom in the wake of 2014’s original movie, Gunn doubles up on the cosmic weirdness in this sequel, placing the heaviest emphasis on character and world building. Even being built around a more personal, character-driven conflict, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still feels like a bigger and more ambitious sequel, as well as a committed expansion to the MCU’s cosmic side, as its developments don’t just disconnect from the rest of the MCU, but also feel like they don’t necessarily need the rest of the MCU to be entertaining and memorable!

Another key selling point of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, obviously, is its impeccable sense of humour. Gunn makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 effectively one of the funniest movies of 2017 so far, even in not being a strict comedy. The humour is so consistently clever and well-executed that your sides will probably hurt from laughing so hard and so frequently! The humour is the one element of the movie, even more than the visuals and cosmic world building, that never lets up either. Even when pockets of action are largely contained to the start and finish of the Guardians’ sophomore big screen adventure, Gunn still maximizes the kooky charm and fun out of these larger-than-life characters, creating a world that’s even more proudly ridiculous and surreal than in the previous movie. In exploring an even greater depth of alien landscapes and weirdness though, Gunn’s standout direction manages to craft a sense of comedic and vibrant immersion that’s even more potent than it was in the first movie as well!

MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK

With the licensed 80’s pop ballads of Star-Lord’s ‘Awesome Mix’ being such a big part of the original Guardians of the Galaxy, you can imagine that this remains a vital element of the soundtrack in the sequel, and you would be right. ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’ is a bit less peppy and sugary this time, reflecting the more emotional stakes and intriguing character conflict for Star-Lord in this follow-up, but you’ll still get plenty of fun oldies tunes that nicely complement the original score compositions by Tyler Bates. The soundtrack isn’t quite as outstanding in this sequel, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still contains one of the better soundtracks in a Marvel Studios movie, and fans of the original movie in particular will still really enjoy it.

The rest of the audio work also continues to double down on the rest of the insanity in the storyline, especially in premium formats like IMAX. There’s even more cheeky 80’s references in the audio of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to boot, especially with the Sovereign flying spaceships that make literal 80’s arcade sound effects. The audio suite still has little regard for realism, but that’s part of the fun. Things like explosions and destruction still sound with plenty of power, but everything else is more about the upbeat whimsy than raw audio strength. That’s fine though, since it creates an enjoyable cosmic landscape that functions as if your old action figures came to life, and as with the previous movie, that’s a big part of what makes this cosmic arm of the MCU so especially memorable.

VISUAL EFFECTS

It should go without saying that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 represents the latest visual masterwork for a Marvel Studios blockbuster. The fact that this is a sequel means that there’s slightly less novelty in the visuals and style this time, especially when this movie has the unenviable task of following up the visually groundbreaking Doctor Strange from this past November, but rest assured that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still looks amazing throughout! In taking the titular characters to new and even more strange corners of the MCU’s far cosmic reaches, Gunn and his visual artists run even further with crazy and novel visual design, wardrobe and creature make-up, creating worlds and technology that feel even weirder and more exotic, yet still effectively able to exist as interesting new frontiers for both the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise specifically, and the MCU as a whole.

As far as the 3D and IMAX presentation goes, both are quite exceptional as well. The 3D presentation enhances the space combat sequences and general scale of the various worlds that the movie visits, also adding a few atmospheric flourishes that make the presentation extra fun and immersive. The IMAX 3D cut also further enhances the audio and visuals of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with some of the key set pieces also being filmed specifically with IMAX cameras, further increasing their scope and intensity. As you can imagine, IMAX 3D is definitely the ideal way to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, since that’s where it’s at its most immersive and visually exceptional. The movie is still visually stunning even when watched flat in simple digital 2D, but the added 3D enhancements and further IMAX bolstering make the premium-priced IMAX 3D tickets well worth the price of admission in this case, if you have the option!

THE VERDICT

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to capture lightning in a bottle twice, somehow managing to virtually entirely replicate the brilliant recipe to its predecessor’s dark horse blockbuster success. There isn’t quite as much action in this sequel, and some Marvel fans may be disappointed that this follow-up has even less connection to the MCU at large, but as an expansion to the MCU’s cosmic lore, as well as a deeper and more personal journey for the titular Guardians, this sequel succeeds on pretty much every count, especially with the humour being even funnier and sharper in this second movie!

It bears repeating that, even as it operates in its own faraway cosmic corner of the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a movie so well-crafted and fun that it doesn’t need to lean on the rest of the MCU to succeed. Even if you barely have any familiarity with the long-running canon of Marvel Studios’ offerings, you can still enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 quite easily, though you should at least watch its 2014 predecessor first if you haven’t already, lest you be overwhelmed by the vibrant, eccentric insanity that’s cranked up even further in this follow-up.

As audiences have come to expect from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes for a great way to start the latest Summer blockbuster season, and anyone who loved the original movie, or loves great light-hearted sci-fi movies in general, will love this sequel just the same. Whether or not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is better than the original movie is a matter of debate, given how distinct and character-focused it is, but the very fact that it’s worthy of following up such an unexpected slice of mad genius for Marvel Studios is nonetheless the achievement that matters most!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn't quite as tightly-paced as its predecessor, but is nonetheless a strong and worthy sequel, offering even more fun expansion and adventure through the cosmic arm of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
CHARACTERS95%
PLOT90%
DIRECTION90%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK85%
VISUAL EFFECTS95%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Clever storyline that delves deeper into the cosmic characters and lore of the MCU
  • Even more hilarious humour than the first movie
  • Vibrant spectacle and effects remain outstanding, especially in IMAX 3D
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Some uneven pacing in the second act especially
91%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
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