There are a lot of big budget blockbusters on the horizon this year, but I doubt any of them are as highly anticipated as Guardians Vol. 2. The first Guardians is arguably the best film in the MCU and it is the film that redefined Marvel’s overall tone. Each film they’ve made since has slowly shifted the franchise closer to the lighthearted, irreverent feel of Guardians. Ant Man was a straight up comedy, Dr. Strange was surprisingly joke dense, and if the latest trailer is anything to judge by, even the Thor franchise seems to have adopted the Guardians approach, what with its use of classic rock music and well placed humor. So with the rest of the franchise chasing Guardians’ coattails, how does the actual sequel measure up? Does it recapture that spark, or does it fall a little flat? The answer to both is yes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes everything you loved about the first one and cranks up the intensity – more comedy, more action, and more comedic action. The script is incredibly joke dense and features near constant quipping. No amount of gunfire or colorful explosions will compel them to stop bickering. Expect to spend most of your time laughing at their on-screen antics.
All the characters you know and love have had their personality traits intensified. Starlord is more of a smartass, Drax is even more literal, Rocket is more of an asshole, and Baby Groot is dumber and dancier than ever. As amusing as it is to watch these personalities ping pong off each other, our leads feel a little more one dimensional this time around. Starlord is the only one with a major character arc. Everyone else on the team does have their own thing going on, but their parts in the story are more subdued. In terms of character development, Drax and Rocket are basically along for the ride, and Baby Groot is completely vestigial. His presence is merely played for laughs. In fact, most of the character development goes to the supporting cast this time around.
Nebula gives us some insight into her past and her troubled relationship with her sister Gamora and their abusive father Thanos (giving us more reason to hate him when he finally shows his purple mug in the upcoming Infinity War.) That’s a nice touch since Nebula was little more than a henchwoman in the first film.
More surprising however is the amount of screen time and development devoted to Yondu, Starlord’s blue faced abductor from the first film. Yondu’s role in this film is so radically different from the first one that it almost feels like a retcon. He is portrayed more sympathetically and his relationship to the rest of the team is cast in a different light. On the whole, the film benefits from his increased presence because a significant degree of the narrative thrust relies on his character. With the rest of the team feeling fun, but a little stagnant, Yondu gives us someone to be invested in. It helps too that his scenes are the least comedic.
In fact, the biggest problem with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the density of the comedy. On the whole the film is very lighthearted, but every now and then things need to get serious so that we can actually care about the characters. This means that character beats can end up bookended by jokes, or juxtaposed against straight up comedy scenes. This staccato pacing is a little abrasive and makes it difficult to get settled. This is a minor problem, but it is a problem that its predecessor didn’t have, and it makes me wonder if Vol. 2 might be trying a bit too hard. The first film was free to do whatever it wanted because the audience had no expectations going into it. Now that we do have expectations, Vol. 2 is obsessed with giving us what we want, but more of it.
This isn’t always a bad thing mind you. Awesome Mix Vol. 2 for instance is every bit as good as the original. The classics from the late 70s have returned and some of my personal favorite scenes in the film are carried along by the music. In fact, the opening scene set to Mr. Blue Sky might just be the best opening in any Marvel film to date.
Despite a few shortcomings Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a worthy successor to Marvel’s unlikely smash hit from 2014. It is funnier, crazier, more colorful and a wild ride from beginning to end. Some awkward pacing and vestigial character arcs hamper it somewhat (and there is a giant gaping hole in the main villain’s motivation, but that gets into spoiler territory), but none of this stops the film from being wickedly entertaining. Go see it and laugh yourself silly.