Note: This review contains mild spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. You’ve been warned.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Marvel movies to date, so I sat down to watch Vol. 2 with understandably high expectations. And while the sequel doesn’t quite feel as special as the first, it’s still a great movie and keeps this misfit crew among the very best that Marvel has to offer.
First, let’s talk about the writing and the characters, since those were by far the strongest elements in the first movie. It’s hard to go back to my first experience watching Guardians of the Galaxy, but I think I laughed out loud more at the sequel than even the original. Part of that is due to the actors really coming into their own as their characters, and part of it is the writers really nailing down what it is that makes each character tick. There are also some recurring bits that work phenomenally well, like a certain Ravager’s stupid name or how Drax basically has no filter on his thoughts. I personally found less comedy in Baby Groot’s antics than most — partially because his best scene was ruined by the trailers — but he’s still adorable and changes up the group dynamic in a great way.
There’s a continuation of Quill and Gamora’s “relationship,” and it mostly works. They joke about it being a sort of Sam and Diane thing, and it totally is. They don’t lean too heavily into the “will they or won’t they?” vibe, which I appreciate. And Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana do a good job of selling the obvious chemistry and conflict between the two.
The actual story of the movie is less successful — but still fun. There are several emotional moments that don’t quite land because they aren’t built in the best way. The biggest of these is surrounding Peter Quill’s father. It’s no spoiler to say that Kurt Russell plays Quill’s dad since that was shown in the trailers, but the actual nature of their relationship and history plays into some fun stuff from the comics.
Here’s where I’ll get into some spoiler territory, so beware. Quill’s dad ends up being the bad guy, which should come as no surprise to anyone that knows how movies work. I didn’t have a problem with this, but the movie kind of took too long to get to that turn, and then the actual moment ended up feeling a bit rushed. Quill has to deal with a big decision, and it all happens really fast and leads to a final battle that feels a bit anti-climactic in terms of storytelling. But don’t get me wrong, the actual battle is great.
One of the things I really enjoyed in the first movie was the weaving storyline, where the gang would go on what I’d call “side quests” on the way to their main goal. Those little diversions would end up coming back up at different points throughout the movie, and played a part in the resolution. However, this led to certain elements of the first movie’s story feeling rushed and convoluted, and some characters (like the villain, Ronan), were short-changed in terms of development. The same is true of Vol. 2, unfortunately. It isn’t a huge deal — because the ride is still fantastic — but as a movie, it’s hard not to be disappointed that James Gunn and the other writers didn’t learn from their mistakes in the first film.
On the other side of the coin, there are fantastic set pieces aplenty. There’s nothing that quite matches the jailbreak scene from the original, but there are tons of really cool moments, and every character gets multiple moments to shine.
I was a little surprised and disappointed that the movie didn’t cross over more with what’s going on with the Avengers, since Marvel has come out and said that the Guardians will appear in the climactic Thanos story arc. Nebula — in a greatly improved performance by Karen Gillan — makes mention of wanting to kill her father multiple times, so we’ll see how that bears out. And one of the little ending stingers has a side villain, Ayesha, creating a new golden god character she names “Adam,” which could definitely come into play in the larger Marvel universe. Adam Warlock, anyone?
Just to throw out some other thoughts that I’m sure people will care about: the music is great and feels familiar to the original, with some fun new tracks. There are plenty of nods to Marvel comics thrown in there, including two brilliant cameos with Stan Lee. The visual style is very much the same as in the first movie, with tons of unique, brightly colored species and planets. Neon suits this universe well. Chris Pratt is as charming as ever, Drax gets most of the largest laugh lines, and the fights are visually stimulating, totally over the top, and completely badass.
All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a great sequel. It gives you more of what you loved from the first one and puts the ragtag team on yet another adventure to save the universe. It definitely doesn’t stand out as much or feel as unique as the first, but I’d still be totally fine with Vol. 3 following the same trajectory. However, I do hope they give the characters a better plot to follow in the inevitable sequel. The randomness, references, and scattershot nature of the storytelling have been fun up to this point, but those won’t always create the most compelling film.