The original Guardians film had the benefit of being an underdog. It snuck up on viewers who were beginning to get a little tired of superhero films and knocked us for six. How could a film starring a talking raccoon be THIS GOOD? But Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has the weight of expectation to contend with – which it cheerfully shrugs off, and just does its own thing. Brilliantly.
The opening credits set the scene perfectly, taking the wacky gauntlet thrown down by Deadpool and running with it – to an even better soundtrack. The film opens seriously strong, and rarely lets up from there as Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill finally meets his long-long father, who, naturally, is a planet played by Kurt Russell. The Guardians also have to contend with both The Sovereign, a genetically-bred race led by Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha, and Yondu’s band of Ravagers tracking them down. Oh, and Nebula (Karen Gillan) is back on the scene, swearing vengeance on pretty much everyone.
But Guardians Vol. 2 is not especially concerned with plot. Instead it jumps from one hilarious set-piece to another, taking in all manner of cosmic oddities along the way. Visually, it comes across as a stepping stone towards the Kirby-esque busyness and bright colours of Thor: Ragnarok. The golden world of The Sovereign looks like a computer game arcade in a temple, and Ego’s planet is rich and complex.
There are whole sections of the film that could have been skipped altogether or vastly shrunk down, but instead, pointless though they undoubtedly are, they become the charming heart of the film. A prison break facilitated by Baby Groot – like a toddler who’s had too many Skittles – escalates wildly and helps pick up a slow middle act, even if it doesn’t particularly contribute to the plot.
But while there might not be much in the way of story, there’s a lot of character development. Every single returning character from the first film – even Kraglin (Sean Gunn) – is moved on from where they were in Vol. 1. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula share a storyline which, while light on surprises, is emotionally satisfying, and Drax (Dave Bautista) emerges as the star of the show this time around, full of belly laughs, a weirdly cruel sense of humour and occasional glimpses at the deep sadness inside him, which the Guardians are helping to heal. Chris Pratt, sadly, isn’t given quite enough comedy to work with this time round, and so a lot of Quill’s charm from the first film is MIA, bar a couple of stand-out moments (mostly referencing the 80s).
The big theme this time around is family, and how it can both damage and heal you. Quill’s reunion with his father is as complicated as you’d expect when your father is a cosmic entity, and both Gamora and Nebula are still processing their childhood trauma at the hands of Thanos. Strangely, though, the most touching emotional stuff ends up being carried by Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Who’d have thought it?
The action beats are incredible, and the film rarely falls into the trap of letting everything become so drenched in CGI that you lose sight of your heroes and villains. Every character gets their hero moment, whether we’re admiring Rocket’s devious ingenuity, rooting for Groot to press the correct damn button or finally seeing Yondu cut loose with that arrow of his. The characters also get plenty of silly moments. Pom Klementieff’s sweet empath Mantis is an adorable change of pace from the rest of the cynical a-holes in the Guardians, and the world is expanded nicely. James Gunn has done it again.