Written By: François-Noël Vannasse
James Gunn may be nuts but he gives the audience what they want.
It’s hard to talk about sequels without comparing them to the original. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much a movie in the middle of a trilogy. It’s mostly about the individual growth each of the characters has to go through in order to truly be able to come together as partners, as Guardians, as a family. It’s still a comedy, but the jokes are rarely at the expense of the drama.
Each character becomes a slightly better person by the end of the movie. They’re not cured, they haven’t fixed themselves, but they do all make breakthroughs. Drax becomes less selfish, Peter avenges his mother’s death and accepts that Yondu did an okay at raising him. Rocket begins to understand love. Gamora opens the door to her feelings for Peter. Even Nebula manages to let go of her anger towards Gamora which was one of her key motivations before.
In the end this is a movie about dads. Kurt Russell plays a version of Ego: The Living Planet who is, this time, a lonely disappointed Celestial, bent on spreading himself to thousands of planets, thus eradicating much of the intelligent life in the galaxy. He is also Star-Lord’s biological father. Gamora and Nebula once again clash and bond over their equally genocidal “father” Thanos. Rocket was created by distant and uncaring mad scientists and comes to terms with his antisocial behavior by bonding with Yondu who was sold into slavery by his parents. Newcomer Mantis was born an orphan and adopted by Ego. Baby Groot is essentially being raised by the other Guardians. Finally, Drax, the only actual father of the group, had to watch his wife and kids die at the hands of Ronan/Thanos and still carries that pain and sadness with him.
There’s not a lot to pick apart in a movie this fine. It sets up the jokes and punchlines as deftly as the story beats and emotional payoff. We get to see the “original” Guardians united for a moment. We get to see how Howard the Duck is doing. Stan Lee has another wonderful cameo, this time a nod to wild fan speculations. Adam Warlock’s true cocoon is introduced. Star-Lord’s musical library gets a hefty tech upgrade. A method for faster than light travel other than Bifrost and tesseract portals is introduced. That’s all just icing on the cake though, and the cake is pretty delicious.
It’s hard not to be excited whenever a new piece of the Marvel Universe shows up. Gunn’s slice of that world is colourful, weird, and funny. It’s a joy to revisit and I very much look forward to more. Captain America: Civil War (2016) also dealt with loss, suffering, and crumbling group dynamics. If Civil War is like watching your two dads fight (you don’t know who to root for, and no one wins), then Guardians Vol. 2 is about watching siblings fight. The stakes are far lower because of course they’ll make up in the end. Plenty of tears flow but they’re just kids. Because it’s less serious it has more room to pluck at the heartstrings. Gunn hit pay dirt and is mining gold. Hats off to Marvel, this team is going places.