Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill discovers who his father is, then realizes he knew all along in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a refreshingly character-driven sequel to one of the best films to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Guardians 2 is tighter, faster, and all-around better written than the earlier picture: by focusing almost purely on the characters to drive the story forward, it avoids the big end-of-the-world third acts lulls that plague most of these movies (almost, at least).
If there’s one problem here – and there’s at least one – it’s that things just aren’t as fresh this time around. The first film succeeded to the degree it did because it represented a nice change of pace from the usual Marvel blockbuster, while this one hits a lot of familiar beats from last time around.
Still, if we like all those beats, why complain?
A celestial being called Ego (played by Kurt Russell) reveals himself as Quill’s father, learning of his existence after the climactic events of the previous film. But is he telling the truth? And even if he’s not, are his intentions on the level?
But that’s just one character-based plot thread in this intergalactic sequel, which gives equal play to every member of the Guardians team – and even a few supporting character who aren’t officially on the squad.
Will sparring sisters, and daughters of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) learn to live with each other? Will Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) get over the deaths of his wife and child and maybe kick something off with new recruit Mantis (Pom Klementieff)? Can Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) can to terms with who he is and why he does what he does?
You know writer-director James Gunn is going out of his way to develop his character when even Baby Groot (voiced, kinda, by Vin Diesel) gets a character arc with third-act prominence.
But perhaps most welcome of all is additional development of the Yondu character, a space pirate played by character actor Michael Rooker who was a minor element of the previous movie but here takes on additional significance.
Guardians 2 keeps things character-based right up through the 5 (!) post-credit sequences, but there was something during the climactic battle that left me grumbling.
As our heroes are fighting to overcome their adversary and save each other, the movie seems to decide that their lives aren’t important enough. So it adds an additional ticking-clock element: if they happen to fail, not only will they be killed, but the entire universe will be destroyed.
Scenes of Roland Emmerich-style mass-scale destruction, with a giant blob overtaking not only the Earth but other planets around the galaxy, hammers this point home. The fate-of-the-world trope is a tired cliche in these movies, and an entirely unnecessary addition to this one in particular.
Still, that’s not enough to undo the good that the rest of the movie has built up to that point. Writer-director Gunn has crafted memorable characters from creations that even ardent comic fans may not be familiar with, and his two Guardians films are the best the MCU has to offer.
Like Guardians 1, this one is set to some rockin’ 70s tunes that are nicely integrated into the proceedings through a mix tape plot device and frequently referenced via dialogue. There’s even pretty great deconstruction of Looking Glass’ Brandi by the Russell character.
But I’d still give the soundtrack in the original a slight edge – just like the film itself.