Guardians of the Galaxy was the biggest surprise of the first two phases of the MCU, so it’s shouldn’t be a huge surprise that James Gunn took your expectations for where the stacefaring group may go next and stood them on their head. For all the amazing special F/X, Guardians 2 is a much smaller, character-driven movie than the first one was. It is undoubtedly Star Lord’s (Chrs Pratt) film, closing questions on his origin in the first film that will give birth to conflicts sure to pop up for the survivors of Infinity War. In the end, though, this film is about family. Not the families we’re born into, but the families we cobble together out of the people who share our mutual life damage and how they can be as strong and weird and wonderful as any biological bond. It’s a funny (probably funnier overall than the first film), screwball sci-fi family dramedy that makes issue #15 of the MCU as fresh as the first.
It’s my policy with MCU reviews to keep them as spoiler-free as possible. I’m going to try here, but one way in which we are just going massive spoilers is that I’ve included a video at the bottom that explains exactly what all FIVE credits sequences mean and their potential for the future of the Guardians franchise. James Gunn has signed on and is already writing the third film, which will take place after Avengers 4 (and obviously we don’t know who is making it through that). This film takes place approximately about four years before Infinity War, so our team may look very different even than when we leave them at movie’s end (this is your ONE film with Baby Groot….that’s made clear). The first Guardians movie kind of kept to its mission of opening the cosmic universe, but it had ties to Thanos and the overall MCU storyline. This film is perhaps the most isolated film with the exception of Iron Man 3. I was expecting some advancement and set up of the plot of Infinity War, but this is a self-contained sequel to the first film. We know Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t going to set things up, and Thor: Ragnarok could, but clearly there’s a lot afoot in Asgard, so that just leaves Black Panther before Infinity War. Are we going into this thing cold? It’s beginning to look like Avengers 3 may be the set up and Avengers 4 the real war.
After a spectacular, and hilarious, opening set piece, in which the Guardians royally irritate a group of beings called The Sovereign (who may figure VERY prominently in future Guardians films), they are rescued by Peter’s father: Ego (Kurt Russell). Telling you who or what exactly Ego is would be gigantic spoilers especially for Marvel nerds, but suffice it to say that he’s a much more complex and daunting character than they made Ronan out to be in the first film. While Peter is dealing with his literal daddy issues, the other members of the team have subplots that take place while the team spends the majority of the film on Ego’s world.
We’re introduced to Ego’s….pet, Mantis. Mantis is…..awesome. She’s one of my favorite Guardians in the comics and as an empath quite useful to the team, and forms an extremely funny bond with Drax (can I say Dave Bautista, who I was the most nervous about of any of the cast going into the first film, nearly steals this movie). Never has Drax’s inability to filter his speech or comprehend any sort of subtext or metaphors, combined with his shotgun bluntness been put to better use. He’s oddly segued into team morale officer.
Also joining the team are Nebula…well, she’s more of a prisoner en route to the Nova Corps for her crimes, but common enemies force her to deal with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the sisters work out some of their lethal issues. Gamora has far less screen time in the film than in the first; really everyone but Star Lord does, and that’s a consequence of it being his movie as opposed to the ensemble piece the first film was. Rounding out the expanded roster is Yondu (Michael Rooker) who finds himself cast out of the Ravagers (in a mind-blowing star cameo moment) for reasons pertaining to his relationship with Ego.
Russell and Pratt are a very believable father/son duo and their arc is the centerpiece of the film. My favorite Peter moment in the film comes when Ego makes a rather shocking revelation and Peter’s response is so fast and so Peter that you lose any worries you may have developed that Star Lord was going to be swayed. He is the heart of this family, and he comes to realize over the course of the film that the family he already wanted, he already has.
Rocket is in a grumpy place in this film. He makes a tiny…little…misjudgment that starts an interstellar war and takes some flak for that. He’s constantly running around after Baby Groot, who has grown from twig at the end of Guardians to Baby Groot (and that’s really the only way I can describe a toddler sentient plant being). Whereas Groot was the wisest of the team in the first film, he’s easily now, though he’s trying, the dimmest. This has been pressaged in the “DO NOT TOUCH THE DEATH BUTTON” scene that slew audiences in the trailers.
Following Peter’s break with Ego, he becomes one of the more powerful villains in the MCU, and the third act of the film is the eight Guardians joining forces to survive and then go their separate ways, not all in ways you’d expect. The scope of the plot is much smaller than the first film, and there’s not the magic of meeting these wonderful characters (aside from Mantis) for the first time, but why not have a film where you take these characters and beef them up, explore their relationships, get to know them as well as we do the Avengers. After all, we’ve had five or six films with each of them, and we’re only going to have two with these guys going into the showdown with Thanos. I think Guardians 2 falls just short of the original, but only by a hair, and is another fantastic entry in the MCU’s stable of super hero classics.
EXTREEEEEEEEEEME SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!!!!!!
DO NOT TOUCH THE DEATH BUTTON OF SPOILERS UNTIL AFTER THE FILM!