Playing Against Type—Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
It can be difficult to fully encapsulate what made Marvel’s 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy so popular among audiences. Fans of the film will often point to the film’s humorous writing, charming characters, and solid sci-fi action as reasons why Guardians had such a pull, and they’re not wrong. However, I believe that the appeal of the movie lies as much in its surprising poignancy as its lighthearted elements. Throughout the course of Guardians, the back-and-forth banter between characters occasionally leads to moments that make them more human, even if they are a walking tree or a trigger-happy raccoon.
Now, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in theatres, does the second installment live up to the first in terms of both humor and heart?
I went into Vol. 2 expecting to largely compare it to its 2014 counterpart, and I’m sure there will be plenty of that in this review. But what surprised me about the movie was the extent to which it felt like its own movie, instead of retreading old ground. The soundtrack is still resplendent in its 70s and 80s glory, but Vol. 2 feels, in many ways, like a different sort of movie than Guardians. Writer and director James Gunn was a relative unknown when he created Guardians, and it was through his vision that the film became striking for its differences to Marvel’s other superhero films. It felt almost like a parody of the genre in its subversiveness, but with an earnestness that endeared it to viewers. Vol. 2 retains that underlying sense of sincerity, but here, builds on the characterization, storytelling, and, for better or for worse, the humor of the original.
Fatherhood is the biggest underlying theme of Vol. 2. In the film, we meet Ego (Kurt Russell), a human-looking alien that happens to be the father of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Quill’s father was a figure hinted at in the first film and explored in depth here, looking at issues such as legacies, inheritances, and even simple father-son bonding through the lens of wacky space hijinks. The subject of fathers is also brought up in a subplot between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), in which their relationship with their (adoptive) father is discussed and is the source of their ongoing rivalry.
The film hits its stride in the third act, an oddity for Marvel movies, where an underwhelming villain can often sabotage an otherwise solid flick. It is then that Vol. 2 finds its own identity separate from the first, fully exploring the relationships between the characters and coming to a conclusion that is played surprisingly seriously considering the flippant whimsy of both films.
It takes a while to get there, however. Vol. 2, as a part of a now-established franchise, takes time to set up both for an inevitable sequel and future Marvel movies. This is perhaps an inevitable part of the process, but it also necessitates the inclusion of the Sovereign, a race of gold-skinned individuals that pursue the protagonists throughout the film. However, they don’t contribute much to the story at hand, and their presence in the final battle feels like an excuse for a climactic space battle rather than any attempt at story coherence.
Still, there’s a lot to like about this movie. Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer gets to shine here, and it feel like the writers are able to more effectively use the character’s attempts at empathy and continued enthusiasm. Bautista brings a sort of childlike earnestness and glee to Drax in a way that can’t help but make you smile. In a way, he’s sort of the embodiment of the best parts of the entire movie.
Plus, we’re treated to more rollicking music video moments over the movie’s various scenes, and though they are arguably overused, the best are still a lot of fun. Perhaps that’s another part of the appeal behind the Guardians movies; even when they don’t quite hit home, they’re still enjoyable and unique. Here’s hoping that the third installment will keep delivering emotionally-significant moments while retaining the fun of its predecessors.