The first Guardians Of The Galaxy’s chief weapon was surprise. When the quirky quintet made their debut back in 2014, they represented Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble to date. Sure, it was the company that had taken an Aussie surfer, given him a magic hammer and still created another hit to add to its roster of box office behemoths, but the received wisdom was that a sci-fi film featuring a talking raccoon, a sentient tree, an ex-wrestler, a green warrior woman, and a roguish bloke best known for being the tubby guy in Parks And Recreation would be a step too far.
Well, received wisdom can go hang. Driven by the indie, often delightfully deranged sensibilities of its director, James Gunn, Guardians was a joy, combining humour and sci-fi action in a manner that out-Star Warsed most Star Wars movies, danced a jig at the global box office, and became a fixture on many ‘Best MCU films’ lists. In short, we were Groot.
But when you’ve lost the element of surprise, following that is no easy task. Happy to report, though, bar a few last-act wobbles and the odd tonal shift, Gunn has done it again, crafting a sequel that keeps the focus on the characters we fell for first time around while pumping up the volume.
After the success of the first one — and perhaps learning from the travails of Joss Whedon who, by his own admission, had to endure a fair amount of interference and second-guessing on Avengers: Age Of Ultron — Marvel has handed Gunn the keys to the kingdom. And that confidence is evident from the film’s credit sequence, which presents an action set-piece in a hilarious and highly unorthodox manner, while giving the incredibly cute Baby Groot a glorious moment in the spotlight and serving notice that ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’, the mix-tape that drives the film’s soundtrack, is going to be every bit as earwormy as ‘Vol. 1’.
And, for the terrific first hour or so that seems to be the case with the movie as well. If the first film was about bringing this group of A-holes together, then convention dictates that the sequel should be about forcing them apart. But Gunn is clearly uninterested in what he should do and so this is actually a film about the group realising that, despite their huge differences, they function best as the universe’s most dysfunctional family. Yes, family — thematically this has a lot in common with Fast & Furious 8, with the F-word said so often it would overheat Dom Toretto’s carburettor. Almost everyone here has daddy, mummy, or sister issues, with Quill in particular finding himself in a weird version of My Two Dads, torn between the dependably swaggering Russell’s aptly-named Ego and Michael Rooker’s gnarly space pirate, Yondu. But the emotions this engenders are unexpected and genuine. Beneath the film’s sass — and there’s plenty of that again — there’s a real beating heart.
Vol. 2 is at its best when this motley crew are bickering and bantering amongst themselves (with Bautista’s wonderfully unfiltered Drax getting the lion’s share of the best lines again, including the T-shirt-worthy, “I have famously huge turds”) and outside parties, this time including Ego, Pom Klemetieff’s sweet Mantis and Gamora’s aggrieved sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), given more to do this time around. Hanging out with them is so much fun that it’s a shame when Gunn finally makes a concession to convention and remembers that films like this typically have to have a) a plot and b) a villain.
With the introduction of both, that’s when the movie starts to falter. What was previously assured becomes a little abrasive and, at times, unappealing. Jokes that landed unerringly start to miss the target, including a running gag about a bad guy called Taserface that’s not as funny as it may have seemed on paper/on set/in the edit, while one sequence which is meant to be a moment of triumphant heroism comes across as a tasteless misstep. And the final battle, try as it might, can’t help but become a greenscreen jamboree.
Still, even when the pixels threaten to overwhelm, Gunn finds refuge in his main characters. There’s plenty to enjoy here, whether it’s the perfectly deployed Baby Groot moments, or a general strain of anarchic weirdness that runs all the way through the credits and which still feels unique to this franchise, not just within the MCU, but blockbusters in general. It’s easy to overlook the odd off note when a mix is this awesome.
Verdict Perhaps not quite as fresh or fun as the original, but still very much a triumph of the Quill.