The first film in the Guardians of the Galaxy series was the great surprise movie of the summer of 2014. When I think back on it that’s what I remember: a more or less ordinary space opera made delightful by a series of surprises: the bright colors and the music and the weird characters doing weird and funny things against a background of Jim Starlin and Jack Kirby comic book art brought to life. I don’t remember what I was expecting, since I had no more than a surface acquaintance with the comics– maybe a conventional Marvel movie with an outer space setting? But that isn’t what I got.
And I knew that isn’t what I was going to get with Volume 2. You can only blindside the audience with cotton candy once. So what did we get instead?
Well, we got More of the Good Stuff. More fairground science fiction, more big Kirby on the screen, more great music on this volume of the Awesome Mixtape, mixed in with more big action. More jokes. (Very good jokes. And sarcasm. This is an extremely funny movie.) More talking raccoon and more tree creature. More credit scenes. Lots more of those, and they are a lot of fun.
But in addition to the More we got some Other Stuff. In this category, we could add character stuff and actual plot. Maybe this is because we already know the characters and the filmmakers can develop them beyond the introductions. But I thought Chris Pratt’s Quill was a much more interesting person in this film, less of the one dimensional wisecracking rogue and more a guy who has been shaped by his life and especially by his relationship withhis father figures. Is Pratt a better actor these days? Does this film have a better script? Do I just know Star Lord better, now?
Other characters seemed more nuanced as well. Gamora and her sister Nebula give the flick its Bechdel test credentials, and Dave Bautista’s Drax, so much the unexpected highpoint of the first installment, continues to delight, especially when paired with new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper and acted by Sean Gunn, who also plays another character, Kraglin the space pirate), continues to be the best mostly-CGI character anywhere and turns out a cracking performance, including some very touching scenes. Baby Groot is Baby Groot– you’ve seen him in the trailer and he’s just as cute in the full length version. And many scenes are stolen by a much more fully developed Yondu, ably played by Michael Rooker.
The plot of Volume 2 was also improved, I think, mostly due to the very able work of longtime genre film specialist Kurt Russell as a mighty villain who is also personally significant to Quill. A hugely powerful Big Bad is normally not also an interesting person, but this guy is–and the more you get to know him the more horrible he is, which is a twist on the usual increase in sympathy that comes with understanding.
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2: highly recommended. While I know there are several other interesting projects coming out this summer, and some of them may well be better films, I think they are going to have a hard time beating out this one for the title of “best summer movie”.
You will find the usual spoilers in the Notes Behind the Cut.
- Bring a handkerchief. While Volume 2 is not an out and out tearjerker like Logan, it has a number of extremely touching moments, particularly those involving Yondu. I really like old Yondu …
- The gold painted statue-ideal minor bad guys are a scream, particularly their High Priestess leader. These are old fashioned villains you love to hate– it would be easy to actually hiss at them if you had the right kind of a crowd. Lots of fun.
- The snow planet red light district with all the neon signs is one of the best science fiction settings I’ve seen in a long time.
- I also like the giant pirate ship, and the contents of Yondu’s bedside table drawers.
- Yondu’s Whistling Arrow is one of my favorite sci-fi weapons, too. The credits scene where Kraglin is teaching himself to use the Arrow is one of those touching bits mentioned above, though it is also funny and full of character stuff. Kraglin is a very appealing new character who I like a lot.
- Earworm warning: I don’t know how you feel about the song “Brandy”, but you will be spending a lot of time with it after you leave the theater.
- Ego the Living Planet is a creepy character. Kurt Russell plays him in a creepy way. The CGI Young Kurt Russell in the flashback scene is extra creepy. (Uncanny valley, anyone?) And Ego, who has had millions of years to learn to be a sculptor, makes very creepy bad sculptures in a way that should give the characters a clue that he is a creep. Creep, creep, creep.
- And yes, the teenage Groot in the last of the credits scenes is probably the funniest thing you will see all year.
- Finally, I will leave you with the top five key words for this movie from the Internet Movie Database: Marvel Cinematic Universe, raccoon, mixtape, demigod, sarcasm. Pretty good summary.