Director: James Gunn Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kurt Russell Running Time: 136 mins
Living up to the first Guardians Of The Galaxy was always going to be a daunting task. Based on a largely unknown bunch of characters from the pages of Marvel comics, the first film was an insanely successful surprise hit that caught audiences off guard in the best possible way with its unique brand of humour, adventure, sci-fi thrills, and breakout characters. Sure the trailers looked good, but nobody knew quite what to make of it until they sat down in the theatre and had their proverbial minds blown.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2, arriving on a wave of expectation and hype, has the unenviable task of trying to recapture that magic. And honestly, although it can’t quite match the surprise impact and originality of its predecessor, it still gives it one hell of a good shot. This film is absolutely tons of fun – expanding on the scale, humour, and unique quirks of the first film, while aiming to dig a bit deeper into the characters and their own separate corner of the Marvel universe.
After a brief prologue, setting the scene for what’s to come, we catch up with our favourite galactic heroes in the midst of their latest adventure – protecting a distant planet’s valuable power source from some sort of bizarre octopus-like tentacle monster. What follows is an inventive and smile-inducing extended opening sequence that echoes Peter Quill’s memorable introduction, dancing across the barren rodent infested surface of an alien world, at the start of the first film. Like much of the rest of Vol.2 it has to be said this sequence isn’t entirely new ground for the franchise, but they’ve certainly given it a nice fresh coat of paint.
In any case, the consequences of this adventure set in motion a chain of events that leaves the crew split into two separate groups and sees Quill reunited with the father he never knew. Much of the resulting plot revolves around the team’s attempts to regroup following this split. With many of our favourite characters thrust into unexpected pairings, and the addition of a few new faces (Pom Klementieff is a notable standout as the charming if somewhat stereotypically wide-eyed character of Mantis), this scattered band of misfits must once again learn to work together, discovering a surprising amount about themselves and each other along the way.
Which again, is really pretty similar to the thematic premise of the first film; but if it ain’t broke…
While the chemistry between characters is great as ever, and the actors all do great work (Dave Bautista continues to impress with his surprisingly perfect comedic timing), the pacing, plot, and dialogue here are a bit more hit and miss. Fans may leave feeling a bit conflicted. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 is so much fun and features a surprising amount of emotional depth at times, but its flaws are far more apparent and widespread than the first film – the most unfortunate of which being that, in trying to achieve so much, it’s not nearly as sharp and focused as the original, and a fair bit more self-indulgent.
If the first film was a sprawling Star Wars-esque space adventure, this one is more a middle of the road Star Trek entry, with added jokes, excitement, and charm for good measure. Plot wise it’s almost like a “bottle episode” – limiting each of our characters to the confines of a single location. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 feels less like an event movie, and more like a perfectly enjoyable story-of-the-week installment in the gang’s very own mega-budget TV show.
While the focus on character development is admirable, there’s a bit too much family drama at play and the film hinges on a couple of fairly uninvolving and overplayed sci-fi tropes. Without giving anything away, having half the gang being stuck on a planet with Quill’s father for much of the run-time is, perhaps unsurprisingly, never as exciting as the film thinks it is. And as much as people usually complain about cookie-cutter Marvel villains, the lack of any real villain or driving overall plot in Vol.2 robs the film of its momentum, causing certain scenes in the middle to drag far more than they ought to.
Like most comedy sequels there’s also a fair amount of recycled jokes. For every truly funny interaction (and there are many) there’s another that feels the need to one-up itself and take things to the extreme. Vol.2 contains the kind of forced and/or awkward humour that the first film largely managed to avoid. After the success of the original, James Gunn has clearly been given free rein to indulge his baser instincts and push the limits of what’s acceptable with a 12’s/PG13 certificate – this results in a handful of moments you would never have really expected to see or hear in a Marvel movie, including a few too many crude sex jokes, some mildly graphic content, and a surprising amount of cursing. While it’s all pretty harmless, people’s mileage with these jokes will likely vary.
In terms of action, Gunn offers up some great set pieces and fills them with plenty of stunning shots and memorable moments. Doctor Strange and the first Guardians set the scene for Marvel films to include some increasingly outlandish intergalactic visuals, and this film certainly continues that trend. The only disappointment, other than a touch of CGI overload, is that the editing of many of these sequences really lets them down. With so many characters to cut between as the film wears on we rarely get a chance to let what’s happening truly sink in. It’s wham, bam, and on to the next shot, and it’s a little frustrating – particularly in the climactic scenes where this approach actually detracts from the dramatic stakes rather than escalating them as was presumably intended. As we move ever closer to Avengers: Infinity War one can’t help but hope these films don’t succumb to a mind-numbing amount of green screen CGI environments and an unfocused jumble of overblown action scenes.
At the risk of dragging on here, it would be madness to review the new Guardians Of The Galaxy and not discuss the soundtrack. There are many great song choices in Vol.2, but arguably the soundtrack as a whole just doesn’t pack the same punch as the original. While the 80’s music and Quill’s Walkman felt like an integral and natural part of the story in the first film, here it feels like more of a requirement. To match the more character-driven nature of this installment many of the songs are a bit more laid back, and emotional. This works to a point, but it feels like we’re missing the big anthems of the previous soundtrack, and although there are a few standout needle-drop moments, you’re not nearly as likely to leave this film with many of the songs stuck in your head.
All in all, it can’t be said Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 going to blow any minds; but it really doesn’t disappoint either. It’s eager to please, and it largely succeeds. In fact, apart from the excellent Captain American: Winter Solider it’s probably the best Marvel sequel to date. If nothing else it’s worth it purely for the time we get to spend with these deservedly well-loved characters. Thankfully the film also packs some real emotional and visual punches, and despite stumbling slightly in trying to outdo its predecessor, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 still proves to be an extremely entertaining sequel.(3.5 / 5)
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 is released in Irish Cinemas on Fri 28th April