Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 further proves Marvel’s ability to adapt by standing out from the rest of the MCU including its predecessor.
Three years later, the Guardians of the Galaxy are back, with not even a cameo in another Marvel film to indicate their progress. While the Avengers have been divided, the Guardians are a family stronger than ever. The first Guardians of the Galaxy was lauded for differentiating itself within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, providing a wholly unique tone and set of characters. Although this shiny new coat was enough to make it exciting and fun, it was still pretty much the same old Marvel movie. Which is still great, don’t fix what isn’t broken and all, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a much needed step in the right direction.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s greatest asset is its humor. While the first one is funny, this one is first and foremost a comedy. It is constantly humorous, even throughout most of the final battle, until it inevitably turns south. These are not just chuckles; most are actual solid laughs. Director and Writer James Gunn expertly fabricates these moments which easily could have imploded. Most importantly, he knows to make sure the movie does not take itself too seriously. Every time a character embarks on an arduous, back-story building monologue (which happens far too often), another character immediately sets it right back on track with a wonderfully self-aware remark.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels like MCU’s response to Deadpool. It actually might even be funnier than Deadpool. While Deadpool eventually starts to suffer trying to carry a variety of gimmicks and relishing its R-rated freedom, forgetting to actually make jokes, Guardians thrives in its PG-13. Honestly, a lot of Guardians may only be funny because it is a little shocking that Disney let them get away with so much. Either way, it is still really funny even though a lot is lowbrow humor. This still works though, because it mostly does not feel forced for the laughs, and derives from strong characterization and chemistry.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the few Marvel movies, which include Captain America: Civil War and Ant-Man, that makes complete sense from beginning to end. This has an elegantly simple plot, more akin to the Hero’s Journey based epics, than the barrage of comic book action. The first Guardians is bogged down by upwards of five villains. It also must both establish the Guardians and serve the greater Marvel universe by introducing an Infinity Stone and Thanos. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 exists completely on its own, enabling it to further the Guardians’ stories and create a cohesive plot.
Unfortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not completely perfect. It devotes so much time to the comedy and story, that some elements get left aside. The Guardians themselves are fantastic characters, but a lot of their essence is left out. As mentioned above there are far too many monologues which exist as a weak excuse for characterization. Instead of allowing these characters to develop naturally, they are left only to unfurl their emotional turmoil through monologue. Thankfully the monologues are not too cheesy, that they still work in the narrative. Part of this comes from the fact that the characters tend to be separated into various teams of two at any given time. One character will ask a question and the other will delve into their dark backstory. It is an effective expository mode, but it does not exist naturally.
This contributes to the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels like it is holding its characters at a distance. Whereas other Marvel movies bring the audience into the story, fully empathizing with the characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 forces the audience to watch the Guardians as they strengthen their familial bond. Because of this, the movie holds very little emotional impact, and the dangerous stakes do not feel real. It is a pity that these incredibly interesting characters do not actually get to shine through. The only one who fully succeeds is Baby Groot, who is manipulatively adorable.
Despite the weak characterization, the cast still gives wonderful performances. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 nicely gives supporting cast members, of the first movie, more time to shine in this. Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Michael Rooker’s Yondu, and Sean Gunn’s Kraglin balance out the main cast in a variety of ways, enhancing the character dynamics. Meanwhile of the new cast members Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is a fun goofy character that pairs perfectly with Drax. Kurt Russell’s presence as Ego enhances the 1980s vibe, while Sylvester Stallone has only a glorified cameo. Of the main cast, although the performances are still great, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Dave Bautista’s Drax do not seem to have developed organically from the first movie. Their characterization better serves the greater movie, but they seem a little too different than they were before.
Despite its flaws, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is immensely fun. Its trade off of comedy for emotion is unfortunate, but it still works. This setting is a nice change from the other MCU movies, aided by fantastically extensive world building with intricate details. Although this movie was self-contained, it heightens the excitement to see how these characters unfold into Avengers: Infinity War.