On my Letterboxd page I have this running list ranking every Marvel/DC superhero movie I’ve seen including almost every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s got almost 50 movies on it at this point but one movie I haven’t included on it is the original The Guardians of the Galaxy for the simple reason that, despite have the Marvel logo in front of it, that movie is not a superhero film. None of the characters really have “superpowers” with the possible exception of Groot, they don’t have secret identities, they aren’t really vigilantes, in fact they’re barely even heroic. They really don’t fit any definition of “superhero,” rather the movie was a straight-up space opera. With the possible exception of Groot none of the characters really had any superpowers beyond some science fictiony gear, they didn’t have secret identities, and they also weren’t really all that heroic. If these are superheroes then so are the crews of the Millennium Falcon, the Serenity, and Moya. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it was pretty refreshing. Marvel has more than enough superhero stories under its belt and being away from the web of cameos that characterize the Avengers theater of the Marvel world gave the filmmakers freedom to sort of do their own thing. Sure they were still chasing around and infinity stone and the film’s irreverent tone maybe wasn’t as unique as some people made it out to be but for the most part it did sort of seem like its own thing and the film’s entertainment value was there. Audiences seemed to agree and made what was thought to be a relatively risky venture into one of Marvel’s biggest hits. Now the crew is back for a sequel and one with much higher expectations to boot.
Set shortly after the events of the original film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 begins with our roguish heroes on a mercenary gig on behalf of an alien race called the Sovereigns in exchange for the custody of Nebula (Karen Gillan), who they have apparently captured after the events of the first film. The mission is a success but soon they find themselves on the outs with the Sovereign when its revealed that Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) has stolen from them. Soon they’re chased across the galaxy and crash land on a random planet. Fortunately they soon find themselves saved by a stange guy named Ego (Kurt Russell) who explains that he is Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long lost father and the two of them along with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decide to go off to Ego’s homeworld while Rocket and Groot (who’s taken the form of an infant after the events of the first film but is still voiced by Vin Diesel) stay back and repair the ship while guarding Nebula. While staying back Rocket and Groot encounter Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his gang, who capture them after Yondu himself finds himself the victim of a mutiny. Meanwhile back on Ego’s planet the rest of the crew start making some disturbing discoveries of their own.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, like a lot of Marvel movies recently, is one of those movies which in many ways doesn’t really feel like it needs to be reviewed. I feel like I could save a lot of time and effort by just saying “Did you like the first movie? Yes? Then you’ll probably like this one too.” I guess that hasn’t always been true about Marvel movies. In fact in most of Marvel’s franchises the second movie has been the big stumbling block. The second Iron Man movie was pretty widely disliked and for my money the second Thor is the worst movie that the studio has ever put out, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron also kind of sucked if you want to view that as a second movie. I think the issue with these first sequels is that they want to be as breezy as the original films but they don’t have origin stories to hang on like their predecessors and they can just seem kind of like aimless movies treading water. It’s no coincidence that the one sub-franchise to really avoid that sophomore slump was Captain America, in part because the original in that case was set during World War II and by shifting time periods the first sequel had to kind of re-invent the series rather than rest on its laurels. In a number of ways Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does have the same problem as some of those other marvel sequels but silly aimlessness is almost the point of the GoG series so that doesn’t seem as egregious.
If there’s a real problem here it’s probably that some of the crew, particularly Peter Quill, is kind of starting to buy into the notion that they’re heroes rather than scoundrels. In the first movie Quill famously described himself as “an ‘a-hole’ but not one hundred percent a dick” but here he seems to be at most 10% a dick and not really much of an “a-hole” at all outside of a few quarrels with Rocket. You’d hardly know he was raised by pirates at all despite the film revisiting that aspect of his life in more detail than you’d expect. Rocket still has some of his original edge to him but the rest of the crew seems to be rapidly moving away from the notion that they’re thieves and mercenaries at all. That’s not a huge problem given the particulars of the story that’s being told in this particular installment and it’s not necessarily something you’re going to be noticing while watching the movie, but if you go away from it thinking something was missing it might be that. On the other hand the movie does start to establish constructed family of the Fast and Furious variety as the running theme of the series, which, is fine I guess. Not exactly the world’s most original focus for a movie like this but it works I guess even if they start hitting it really really hard toward the end.
Oh, but here I am something like a thousand words into this review and I haven’t even brought up what people actually care about in a Guardians of the Galaxy movie: the soundtrack. Once again the film has assembled a collection of 60s/70s classic pop songs to populate the film with. This time around the music selections are pretty much in line with what we saw before except that there are fewer kitschy choices like “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” that serve to be enjoyed ironically. Most of the songs here do seem to be music I can imagine director James Gunn pretty genuinely enjoys and wants to bring to his audience’s attention. The musical highlights are probably the sequences set to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electronic Light Orchestra and “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay & The Americans. However I will note that the conceit from the first film that these songs are all coming from Quill’s Walkman and that he’s sort of imposing them on the aliens around him against their will is increasingly thrown out the window in this movie and there are some slightly off scenes where characters like Rocket and Yondu seem to be digging into Quill’s collection unprompted.
So I guess we’re back to the “if you liked the first movie you’ll probably like this one” stance I took at the beginning. The movie is basically more of the same with minor tweaks and adjustments, which maybe speaks to how effective that first movie was because there are definitely franchises out there that would not be able to get away with a retread like this as effectively as this one has. Will they be able to do keep on doing what they’re doing for a volume 3 without shaking things up a little? I don’t know. Apparently the Guardians will have a part in the next Avengers movie, not sure how that’s going to work out. Personally I’d like to see what a Guardians movie where the crew goes to Earth and gets their “Voyage Home” on would look like, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.