I have said on more than one occasion that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is not the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It was funny with great whit, a cast that gelled together, and had perfect direction thanks to James Gunn. The movie’s strengths were the humor and characters, which is usually what you need to make a good Marvel film. However, that was all Guardians had to offer. The main story and individual character motivations could not have been more secondary. It was a McGuffin plot about under-developed people finding a thing to stop a thing.
It is important to remember that Guardians came out of nowhere. No one outside of comic fans had any idea who Star Lord or Rocket Raccoon were. The movie had merits, but those in charge could have done better than a McGuffin story. It is the safest bet with a new property; even Force Awakens and Avengers had McGuffin plots. Then again, both titles came from an established base that everyone understood. With Vol. 2 there is more pressure to do something different. Did it surpass the first Guardians or did I waste my money?
After Rocket, played by Bradley Copper steals valuable artifacts from a powerful alien race, the Guardians are forced to flee before crash landing on a random planet. While trying to fix what remain of their ship Peter, played by Chris Pratt, is met by his long lost father Ego, played by Kurt Russell.
Vol. 2 corrects the mistakes of its predecessor. The chief focus this time around is the characters. The story is a vehicle to put them in situations so they can learn and change. There are short bursts of action between sizable chunks of different pairs of characters going through their own thing. Rocket and Yondu, Gamora and Nebula, and Peter and Ego are given ample space to have an arc.
The individual pairs culminate in the film’s perfectly executed theme of family. Where the Fast and Furious movies outright tell you they are a family, the Guardians characters are anything but. They each have desires and motivations that are not congruent with each other nor do they really like one another. Vol. 2 puts the characters into situations where they must grow and learn to live with each other.
I would go so far as to say the film has more in common with a drama than a sci-fi action-adventure. After the beginning, the tone gradually seeps into a realm of melancholy that I did not see coming. Peter tries to be a kid again while Ego steps into a patriarchal role while preparing him for an unknown purpose. Nebula’s motivations for wanting to kill Gamora go far beyond simple revenge. Yondu has the most compelling arc that ties into Peter’s. It reminded me a lot of LEGO Batman and the relationship between Bruce and Alfred.
Another element that changed from the first Guardians was the humor, but not for the better. I know humor is subjective and what I find funny borders on depressing, but Vol. 2 did not make me laugh. I get a feeling the writers noticed Drax, Groot, and Rocket became more popular than they thought, and gave them bigger parts in the sequel. While they were the standouts (Groot especially), the rest of the humor was pretty bad. It was like they were trying too hard to keep up with the stronger bits.
There is a lot of terrible faux laughter. If you want your characters to laugh at something, at least make it sound authentic. This is real laughter. In fact, none of the other MCU movies have faux laughter because they are trying to make the audience laugh. Then there was Taserface, played by Chris Sullivan, whose sole punch line is his name. Some of the gags were not clever, but they were well constructed and made sense.
Could have been worse.
In terms of the cast, everyone was on point, but the standout was Russell. The man is charisma incarnate with a filmography that rivals his costars through and through. The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, Tombstone, Stargate… Need I say more? If you ask me, Russell was overdue for a part in an MCU film. Had he popped up in the first Iron Man, he would have been Nick Fury because he played him in Escape From New York. Any hint of what he is like as Ego would be spoilers. Do yourself a favor and see for yourself.
Sequels are always a troublesome lot. It is impossible to follow up a successful previous installment and achieve the same result, unless you are talking about Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is a direct reversal of the first; the bad is good and the good bad. Though the downturn in humor was disheartening, the drama of the characters more than makes up for the lack of laughs.