The first Guardians of the Galaxy film was such a massive success, with a large part of that due to the fact that, from a mainstream point of view, it was such an unknown and unproven commodity. In part, that extended to the lead as well – yes, Chris Pratt had fame as the ‘chubby joker’ Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, but he was far from the now-Hollywood icon who has recently been honoured with his own Walk of Fame star. Throw in a talking tree and raccoon, and it’s fair to say that hopes weren’t at the highest. Of course, that all changed with a $733.3 million box office taking, and a great combination of action and humour, resulting in a movie regarded as one of the best in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Now, with Rocket and Groot as universally-loved comedy creatures, Pratt mixing with the likes of Denzel and Jurassic World’s best while in regular demand, as well as a director in James Gunn seemingly given free rein by the Marvel overlords to do what he sees fit with the characters at his disposal, anticipation for Volume 2 of what will now be a Guardians trilogy is at an all-time high.
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sylvester Stallone
Run Time: 136 Minutes
Release Date: 5 May (US)/Out Now (Europe)
So, with all that being said, and the recent announcement of Guardians Vol. 3 and the known involvement of Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket et al in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, how does Gunn follow such a monumental success with a movie that all expect to be better, bigger and funnier?
By trying his hardest, with a combination of intense action, insane set pieces and more comedy than you can shake a Groot-like twig at. However, try as he might, that magic – the lightning in a bottle – captured so tremendously in the original was never going to be able to be duplicated. Don’t get me wrong though, this is a hell of a ride to be taken on, one that flies along, mostly, at a frenetic pace. There are certain elements of the plot that require the film to take a pause from time to time, however, the pacing is handled well by Gunn, who ensures that the movie’s slower, calmer moments do not adversely affect the finished product.
Starting off with a unique, all-action and high-energy opening sequence that not only follows the first movie’s positioning of the soundtrack being a separate character but also firmly introduces Baby Groot to viewers. And once he is introduced, there is no limit to the involvement of the undeniably adorable character; indeed, as the movie progresses, there is more often than not a firm focus on him. So much so, in fact, that you begin to wonder if Marvel’s merchandising department – no doubt already counting the millions of pounds, dollars and any other currency that can be spent on likeness-bearing goodies – had a hand in the character placement here. It should be said, however, that the scenes rarely miss. Some may consider Groot overused, and it may be hard to argue, but more will likely let it all go.
The great use of comedy was one of the first film’s main proponents and a huge reason for its success, and the pressure was firmly on Gunn to continue that trend. First time out, Bautista’s Drax seemed to get the pick of the best lines, and while he certainly doesn’t get short-changed here, the comedy is spread across the cast, with successful results. Klementieff’s Mantis is paired with Drax and shines in her role, adding an endearing innocence that was missing from any character in Vol. 1. A word also for Gillan’s Nebula, who was largely relegated to Ronan’s assistant previously, but now given a firm role and story arc of her own, with sister Gamora. To no surprise, especially to anyone familiar with her work, she doesn’t fail to deliver. Indeed, she seems invigorated by the increased focus and also seems to have carved her place on the giant chess board that is the upcoming Infinity War.
One of the biggest themes of the first movie was the story of individuals coming together to form a team, so of course, for their return it is a natural progression for there to be a split in the ranks, allowing for several arcs to take place, and the film’s runtime certainly aids that. At 136 minutes, some 15 minutes longer than the first movie, Gunn certainly has time to flesh out his characters so effectively introduced previously, and he does a very good job of ensuring that no-one is left with nothing to do. However, while the majority of the plot works, there are or two subplots that either feel out of place or just simply do not work. One of these, involving the Sovereign race and their leader Ayesha, unfortunately, feels like time spent where it didn’t need to be, and once again brought a reminder of one of the biggest problems with Marvel films. This, of course, is the failure to understand and present villains not named Loki or Thanos, and this time out it is Ayesha that suffers the same fate. That is not a knock on the character per se, however, with everything else going on elsewhere with already-established and more interesting characters, she comes across as nothing more than an addition designed purely for an (admittedly geek-exciting) mid-credit scene.
The other main new addition to the cast is of course Star Lord’s father Ego, played with effortless aplomb by Kurt Russell. Marvel usually do well when it comes to casting veteran actors, and here is no exception. His scenes with Pratt when the story takes a particularly dark turn are exceptional, and really give Pratt a chance to leave the comedy to one side and actually act. The results really are superb. The same can be applied to Michael Rooker’s Yondu, also given an extended story arc, something he clearly relishes and takes full advantage of.
Gunn has also armed himself with the team capable of making this film look so remarkable. The visual effects are on point, save for a finale that veers a little too close to green-screen chaos at points. Apart from this though, the action, CGI characters, in fact, the overall production all look smooth and what we now expect as the norm from Marvel Studios.
There was a lot of pressure on the director and the cast for the return, given the phenomenal success last time around. You wouldn’t know it, however, as the cast all put forward superb performances, in which their natural chemistry shines through. Emotional beats are nailed perfectly, especially in the emotionally-heavy third act, though there are one or two shifts in tone that drag things down a touch. This, combined with the needless side stories and the inevitable loss of the first-time endearment, stop Vol. 2 from surpassing the original, though there is still plenty to love and enjoy, with sterling performances and eye-popping visuals ensuring it will find itself there or thereabouts in the always had discussion of ‘Best Marvel movie’.