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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. A Review
I am convinced James Gunn had some sort of premonition before making the first Guardians of the Galaxy. At the time us viewers had no idea that we needed a team of space superheros comprised of a talking racoon, a Star-Lord and something called Groot and then later a baby Groot. We were all reeling from the influx of comic book movies and needed something different, very different.
Darn near everything about that first movie is right, it is funny in the perfect ways, the characters were so well fleshed out that it felt like we knew them as well as Spider-Man and of course a killer soundtrack. I had friends that have never seen a super hero movie rushing out to see Guardians 1 and that ladies and gentlemen is what we call a "crossover hit".
All of these things made Guardians of the Galaxy 2 seem like an almost impossible task for James Gunn. He has to make a movie that is reminiscent of the first movie, but not the same, he has to make a great movie, without making it look like he is trying to hard to recreate the first one. He has to do the hardest and most sought after thing in Hollywood, he has to give us "The same thing but different". Looking at Volume 2 from that lens then Gunn has succeeded, and to compare it to the first would be unfair but a fair is a place where pigs are judged and there is no such thing as fair in this world.
When we first see the Guardians in this volume, they are awaiting the arrival of some giant space monster and bickering with each other while doing it. Rocket of course has set up speakers to play tunes while the Guardians take down their foe, which shamelessly leads into a baby Groot dance number while the Guardians take down the monstrosity in the background and the opening credits roll. Reminiscent of Star-Lord's daring escape at the start of the first movie, Guardians 2 leads us right into the action, but a bit of the charm has worn off. I remember that as soon as that opening scene in the first movie ended I immediately wanted to watch it again. Guardians 2 never gave me this feeling, even at it's best.
Where the first volume was about the group coming together and showing where each had come from, Volume 2 is about staying together and where these characters are going. Most specifically Peter Quill A.K.A. Star-Lord and his leftover daddy issues from the first movie. This allows for some strong further character development, but also removes the Guardians from the larger universe and puts this adventure in a box a bit. We are reminded that Quill's father had left him with the blue faced, floating arrow toting Yondu. Youndu was supposed to deliver him back to his father, but instead kept him because he was skinny enough to fit into spaces the adults could not, making him a perfect tool for stealing space stuff and making him Yondou's defacto son.
I can't give away much of the plot without spoilers, but I can talk about the arcs of the characters. Like I said, Quill is dealing with daddy issues, but he is also coming into his own as a true leader of the group. Gamora in addition to dealing with her feelings for Quill, is coming to grips with her childhood and her sister. They both are holding quite a grudge against Thanos and have different ideas about how to deal with them. Drax has basically become the comic relief in Volume 2. He is still dealing with the death of his family, but is probably handling it better than most of the other characters. Rocket probably gets the least to do which is a bit disappointing. Rocket is less concerned with fitting in because of his physical appearance, but rather his attitude. He is still constantly pissing people off and he wants to start learning how to be a better friend, but his default mode is to aggravate.
Gunn's attention to advancing these characters is the best part of the movie. The Guardians are at their best when working together to make each other better. While being some of the craziest characters we have ever seen in a comic book movie, Gunn humanizes them with real life issues that they will deal with along with saving the Galaxy. Humanizing regular human characters is incredibly difficult and Gunn has made Guardians of the Galaxy into a masterclass in just that.
From the best things about the movie to the worst, there is something missing from Volume 2 and I can't quite put my finger on it. The first movie was.....tighter......cleaner. Every scene felt important, every interaction was going somewhere. Volume 2 feels a bit more scattered, less structured. The group is separated for a lot of the movie and I found the set pieces to be less exciting and enjoyable. There are a few too many storylines that take us away from the core Guardians only to help make the third act make sense. Sly Stallone make a very brief appearance, and even though I did like his character, it did not seem like he would be joining on for further movies. His involvement seems to provide a better post-credits scene, of which there are 5 I should mention.
The Awesome Mix Vol. 2 is also slightly lacking compared to it's predecessor, but like the movie as a whole that is not so say it's not good. The first soundtrack was a perfect bled of songs you love like "Spirit in the Sky" "I Want You Back" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and songs you forgot you love like "Hooked on a Feeling" and "Cherry Bomb". Volume 2 sticks to the same genre of 70s and 80s hits just of a lower quality. "Surrender" "The Chain" and "Brandy (Your a Fine Girl)" are the standouts, but there are also tracks from Cat Stevens, George Harrison and Parliment. I was less inclined to do a little shimmy in my seat when the soundtrack kicked in, and while the soundtrack mirrors the tone of the plot well it still was a less inviting sound.
It is incredible hard to make a great movie, it is almost impossible to make a sequel to one. There really has only been one truly great sequel that is better than a truely great original and that is The Godfather Part 2, which coincidentally may be the greatest film ever made. I don't want to hear about The Empire Strikes Back or Temple of Doom, A New Hope and Raiders are better. John Wick: Chapter 2 is about as close to making a better sequel than the original as possible, but I still feel the simplicity of the first one sets it apart. What James Gunn and Co. did was shoot for par. They did not try to out drive the first film, but they also did not shank it 20 yards into the woods. They put a solid product on screen and did not worry about how it would stack against the first, which is really the only way to make this movie.
When it comes down to it, like may of you reading this I'm sure, love these characters and would see them crawl around in a dumpster for 2 hours as long as James Gunn wrote and directed. To pull up on Volume 2 and give us a solid product rather than the normal slap-dash sequel is actually pretty bold to me. While the overall quality is not quite on the level of the first, the effort and care is and to me that is more telling than anything else. This goes without saying but if you liked the first movie go see this one. You may not get that same awesome feeling you did when "Go and Get Your Love" started in the first movie, but you will not be disappointed.
"Get out of the way smaller dumber Groot!"- Drax