Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is an unapologetic comic book movie that embraces the bright colors, superhero logic, and heart-on-your-sleeve emotions of the best of Marvel’s vintage titles from the 1970s and 80s
The first movie felt more like a space opera, with roaring starships and galactic vistas. Guardians’ quirky humor and retro soundtrack combined with a four color palette to make it one of the best Marvel movies released to date. Vol. 2 takes everything to eleven, and while that mostly works in its favor there are times when I wished director James Gunn edited himself more heavily.
As the movie opens, the Guardians are heroes for hire. They’re battling a massive be-tentacled space monster that’s intent on devouring the energy supply belonging to the gold-skinned alien race known as the Sovereign. After the last movie the Guardians have come together as a family of sorts, but it’s clear they don’t know how to work together yet. The heroes are pretty much as we left them:
- Star-Lord, the wise-cracking, Han Solo-meets-Indiana Jones mashup, is the team leader.
- Gamora, the deadly assassin, remains the voice of reason
- Drax the Destroyer, the tattooed Hulk analogue, continues to ignore strategy in favor of full-frontal assaults.
- Rocket, the gadget-loving, gun-toting raccoon, seems hell-bent on alienating his friends
- Baby Groot, the sprig that is regrowing from the humanoid tree of the first movie, is a misbehaving child plant
At the end of the last movie Star-Lord learned that his father wasn’t from Earth, and was in fact a being of immense and ancient power. Not far into this movie his father finally finds him, and we quickly learn 1) how Star-Lord was able to hold an Infinity Stone in the first movie and 2) just how far out and trippy this movie is going to get.
It seems that Star-Lord’s father — a being who calls himself Ego — was a galaxy-travelling lover of alien women. His meanderings brought him to Earth, where he met and fell in love with Star-Lord’s mother. He’s more than a galactic gigplo though; Ego is actually a being of immense cosmic power, and it’s a power he wants to share with Star-Lord.
The Family You Know, The Family You Find
Family — whether biological or adoptive — is the major theme of the movie and Gunn happily hits us over the head with it as many times as possible. Every hero in this film is trying to find themselves within their dysfunctional family unit:
- Star-Lord is trying to connect with his biological dad Ego … and his adopted dad Yondu.
- Gamora and Nebula struggle with their sibling rivalry
- Drax attempts to connect with newcomer Mantis
- Rocket battling his own self destructive tendencies when it comes to friendship.
- Yondu trying to re-connect with the mercenary Ravegers
Some of these storylines (adopted son/father relationship of Star-Lord Yondu) are more satisfying than others (the adopted sibling rivalry of Gamora and Nebula) but they all share the comic book earnestness you’d expect from a 1980s Marvel title.
The problem is … there are just too many of them. It’d be one thing if Star-Lord and Rocket were the only ones on a quest to discover or strengthen relationships, but having every single character in the movie on a similar quest bogs down the film. It’s not a critical failure — the movie’s still enjoyable — but it’s not as tight as the first film.
That 70’s Movie
The thing that struck me most about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is how much it’s a child of the late 70s and early 80s … and not just in the music. The four-color cosmic storylines of that era are recreated in tone and visuals in Vol. 2.
I didn’t actually read Guardians of the Galaxy back then, nor any of the other cosmic titles; my exposure to that milieu was through the X-Men and their various Spelljammer, Dark Phoenix, and Shi’ar empire tie-ins. Those tended to be a little grittier than the Silver Surfer, Avengers, or Guardians books, but still featured the baroque architecture and sweeping cosmic vistas of the their cosmic kin.
The movie is also a comic book superhero movie through and through, and that’s important to appreciating it. Marvel’s experimented with different genres in its last few movies (a super hero heist flick with Ant-Man, a super spy movie with Winter Soldier, a mystical showdown with Doctor Strange) but this brings the universe back to superheroics. Thus we have scenes where Gamora is carrying a massive gun — easily four times her size — with ease while in the climactic fight scene heroes routinely make impossible jumps between collapsing cliffs and crumbling plateaus. It makes sense from a superhero perspective, but it’s a step removed from reality in a way that Vol. 1 was not.
Guardians of the Galaxy was defined by its soundtrack, and the infectious catchy-ness of its signature tunes — “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “The Pina Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes — inspired a lot of imitations in the years that followed (Suicide Squad anyone?).
The music in Volume 2 fits the movie well enough — this is, after all, a film about a galactic gigolo, so songs like “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass and “Southern Nights” by Glen Campbell make sense, but they’re just not as catchy as the first movie. The biggest exception is “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, which is perfect for the movie’s climactic battle.
I saw the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the theatre four times. The soundtrack was stuck in my head for most of a summer, and it’s easily my second favorite Marvel movie (right after Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
I enjoyed seeing the characters in the follow-up (and will enjoy watching them again when I have a chance), but it doesn’t clear the bar set by the original.
if you’re wondering what a good Fantastic Four movie looks like, it probably looks a lot like this. Bright. Noisy. Huge. Ridiculous. Go full-on 1960s gonzo comic books, with the visual style and music to match, and you’d have one fantastic movie.