A lot of people in the industry thought Disney and Marvel Studios were biting off way more than they could chew with 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, based on a relatively obscure cosmic superteam that includes unique characters like a gun-totting space racoon and a talking tree, especially since writer/director James Gunn had few directing credits to his name. As everyone knows by now, Guardians of the Galaxy embraced its crazy concepts and classic sci-fi influences to a nearly $800 million box office gross and made Chris Pratt into a box office star. A follow-up was inevitable, even if Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t part of the sequel-happy Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is Gunn’s very worthy follow-up to the original film, although it doesn’t quite pack the fun punch of the first entry.
The Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a now-baby Groot (Vin Diesel) — are living out their name as for-hire heroes defending the universe from threats. When Rocket skims some valuable loot off the top of a recovery job for the Sovereign race, the Guardians are forced to flee with a huge bounty on their heads. It draws the attention of Ego (Kurt Russell), an all-powerful being who finds the Guardians and tells Quill that he is his long-lost father. While Ego’s arrival seems to answer Quill’s wildest dreams, the Guardians are pursued by two threats from their past — Quill’s former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Gamora’s hateful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Over the course of the film alliances shift and friends become foes (and foes become friends), and the already-strong bonds of friendship between the Guardians become even closer.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about family — not just with Quill finally meeting his father, but also with Gamora and Nebula facing off and coming to terms with what their relationship and horrible upbringing really means. Baby Groot also acts like a precocious child, and the team acts like parents to the curious little guy. It’s this heart of the story that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does best. It’s also a joy to see Russell acting in a wacky studio film like this, and he brings a lot of weight to the film. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Sylvester Stallone‘s much-publicized appearance as the Ravager Starhawk is way too brief. It’s perplexing why an actor of his stature is utilized in such a small role, and it seems even more unnecessary than Glenn Close‘s brief appearance in the original.
As previously demonstrated in Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, Marvel Studios has often had trouble making sequels that are as fun and as distinct as the original movies (with the notable exception of the better-than-the-original Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 falls into that category as well — in some ways it feels like a placeholder bogged down by dialogue to move the plot along to the big Avengers sequel and/or the (likely) third Guardians of the Galaxy movie. A slight dip in quality from the original, which is one of the most entertaining sci-fi movies in recent years, was expected. Another problem that is regularly faced by Marvel Studios’ films that appears once again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the villain — when the villain is finally revealed, the motivation doesn’t make a lot of sense and it leads to a fairly typical “let’s save the universe!” sequence that, thankfully, is saved by a very emotional ending. It’s also worth noting that the potential Quill/Gamora romance — hinted at in the original film — is just as cold in this one because as magnetic as Pratt and Saldana are individually, they have no chemistry as characters.
But for its faults, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gets the most important thing right — it’s a hell of a lot of fun. The gags riff successfully on the best bits from the original, and Drax’s literal manner of speaking is a highlight. Gunn’s 1970s and 1980s influences are also enjoyable and factor into the funniest jokes. Of course, the soundtrack is top-notch, though it pales in comparison to the killer playlist featured in Guardians of the Galaxy.