Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gave further development to this team of lovable a-holes. As the fifteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 went deeper instead of bigger. Vol. 2 was the closest thing to a strong MCU sequel after the critically acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I still prefer the original. A big reason for its consistency was the return of director James Gunn. Unlike most MCU directors, Gunn’s influence made the relatively obscure Guardians of the Galaxy what they are today. Disney saw the potential in the franchise, so Vol. 2 was fast-tracked to 2017.
Although it could’ve had a subtitle, Vol. 2 is much more fitting considering the Awesome Mix soundtrack that make the movies so fun. Despite being released during Phase Three, Vol. 2 takes place only months after the first movie. It was always Gunn’s intention to follow Star-Lord’s parentage, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so emotional. Although there are fewer planets explored (and only one new Guardian added to the team), Vol. 2 is probably the most beautiful film in the MCU. A variety of colors and a surprising attention to detail help to elevate an original story that doesn’t affect much in the long run…
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 proves it was enough just to catch up with a team I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. 2017 was a particularly big year for Marvel Studios since Vol. 2 was one of three movies released. The scale of the MCU just got too big. Netflix was similarly expanding with the release of Iron Fist intending to lead to The Defenders. Meanwhile on ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was in its 5th season and Inhumans was unfortunately on the way too. I guess I was just expecting more from Vol. 2, but I was happy with any fanservice or obscure comic book references James Gunn was willing to throw in. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Nebula, and the Ravagers are the only major characters who return. The Nova Corps are mentioned, but never seen, the Collector is irrelevant, and Thanos is still a looming threat. There’s a bit more Earth in the sequel, but most planets are either barren or shown at a more intimate scale.
Marvel shows off once again by opening in 1980 Missouri where we see a digitally de-aged Kurt Russell looking a lot like Snake Plissken. Now I’m starting to think they only hire these well known 80’s actors so that we can see them young again. Russell was the perfect choice to play Quill’s father since his rugged good looks and tendency to play roguish characters are very similar to Chris Pratt. Laura Haddock also returns to play Meredith Quill in her younger days when she fell in love with a spaceman despite having no clue what he’s talking about set to “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass. Although the Awesome Mix Vol. 2 isn’t as immediately recognizable as the first soundtrack, it did open my eyes to other classics. Quill’s walkman is given even more importance in a very unexpected way. Even scenes without Star-Lord need his music in it. Although “Fox on the Run” by Sweet is only heard in the trailer.
34 years later in 2014, the Guardians of the Galaxy are slowly learning to work as a team who work odd jobs throughout the galaxy. They’ve recently been hired by the golden, prideful, perfection obsessed Sovereign race to protect their Anulax batteries from a pink inter-dimensional beast called Abilisk. Along with the repaired Milano, the team is refitted with Rocket’s Aero-Rig jetpacks, invisible spacesuits, and heavier weapons. Similar to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 is loaded with hit or miss jokes and scenes that are almost always undercut with humor. Most characters are still very funny, but some jokes are a little too immature for my taste. Chris Pratt became an instant star since the first movies release. Peter Quill is less of a screw up and more serious about leading the team. His head is still in the 80’s with several references to David Hasselhoff and Pac-Man. Apart from his mask and red trench coat, he’s often seen wearing a shirt with alien writing on it.
Zoe Saldana softens Gamora a bit thanks to her motherly role on the team and the unspoken thing she has with Quill. Gamora’s outfit is the most drastically altered with a mostly black laid back ensemble. Dave Batista is at the top of his comedic game, but I’m not sure we needed to know about Drax’s nipple sensitivity or sexual thoughts. Drax retains the blue pants he got from the Nova Corps, as well as his over enthusiasm for battle. Bradley Cooper had an opportunity to explore Rocket’s douchier qualities since he needs to learn a lesson in teamwork all over again. A particularly funny running gag sees several more characters mistake Rocket for increasingly different animals that aren’t a raccoon. The CGI used on Rocket looks even better and he retains the blue vest given to him by the Nova Corps. But the biggest breakout Guardian once again is Groot, or should I say Baby Groot.
After the adorable dancing Baby Groot mid-credits scene became such a hit, they couldn’t pass up the chance to explore that version further. Vin Diesel lightens his voice to continue saying only “I am Groot.” Every Guardian cares for Groot like a son in a variety of precious ways. The opening credits are shown with Baby Groot dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra as the team battles the Abilisk. When the beast is vanquished, the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha extends her condescending gratitude. Despite her size Elizabeth Debicki’s height isn’t shown too often. Her primary importance is bringing up Quill’s parentage, delivering Nebula to the team, and retaliating against the Guardians when Rocket steals their batteries. Although Nebula didn’t make a huge impression in her first appearance, Karen Gillan had so much more to work with this time around. She’s practically the sisterly equivalent of Loki with more time dedicated to her complicated relationship with Gamora and troubled past with her adoptive father Thanos. Her cybernetic appearance hasn’t changed much apart from a hand replacement.
The Sovereign are so uptight that they use remote controlled space pods arcade style. The confrontation causes a rift between Star-Lord & Rocket that results in their ship sustaining heavy damage. Drax is tossed around like a ragdoll when he takes out the last pod, but a mysterious figure saves them at the last minute. They continue to argue as they crash land on the forest planet Berhert. It’s there that the Guardians encounter Peter’s father who turns out to be Ego the Living Planet. In the comics, Quill’s biological father is Emperor J’son of Spartoi. Since Gunn wasn’t a fan of the character, he chose Ego instead. I honestly never expected the Living Planet to appear on the big screen. I thought he would be too complicated and/or ridiculous, but they somehow make it work. A big reason being Russell’s physical appearance as a human avatar. The only complication was Fox owning the rights to the larger than life supervillain. In an unusual exchange of Negasonic Teenage Warhead changing her powers in Deadpool, the rights to Ego were given to Marvel Studios.
Ego is accompanied by Mantis, the only new Guardian in the movie. Mantis was originally a half-Asian martial arts expert who joined the Avengers before later becoming counselor to the Guardians of the Galaxy. Her first appearance was in the 1973 The Avengers #112. Although occasionally green, the only feature Mantis maintains is her antenna. The French Pom Klementieff was perfect casting since she’s also half-Asian like her comic counterpart. Mantis wears an all-green outfit with similar empathic abilities that allow her to feel the feelings of others. Her powers are primarily used for comedic effect and more impressively, to put Ego to sleep. Unlike the comics, Mantis is more of an innocent who doesn’t understand social interactions. She has an unexpected bond with Drax where he continually insults her in his own matter of fact way. I’m not always a fan of that kind of humor, but when it works it works. Ego explains that it was always his intention to return for Quill, but the Ravagers failed to drop him off.
Much like The Empire Strikes Back, the Guardians are split up for the first time when Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax leave Rocket, Groot, and Nebula for Ego’s planet. “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac is probably the signature song of the sequel since it’s heard in 2 separate moments. Although I’m still not a huge fan of them, giving the Ravagers extra screen time was a good idea. They’re first seen on the icy pleasure planet Contraxia where we once again see Howard the Duck and yellow robot prostitutes (a Disney movie). Apart from a few caring looks, Yondu is almost completely different with Michael Rooker exploring his softer side. He becomes disillusioned when his Ravagers are exiled for child trafficking. All of this is sort of explained when Yondu runs into his former teammate Stakar Ogord (otherwise known as Starhawk in the comics). It’s awesome that Sylvester Stallone completes a minor Tango & Cash reunion, but the scene is practically unintelligible.
Ayesha arrives in order to higher the Ravagers for a job in tracking down the Guardians. Since Rocket is the only one left to defend the ship, he takes care of the Ravagers with a variety of hilarious traps. Although I’m still not a big fan of the director giving his brother Sean Gunn so much screen time, Kraglin does have his moments when he accidentally inspires a mutiny. Things get worse when Groot releases Nebula and she shoots off Yondu’s arrow activating fin. The true leader of the mutiny is the mighty Taserface! A comic book villain with a name so ridiculous they had to take advantage of it. Chris Sullivan is a great secondary antagonist for the brief time we see his ugly mug. Nebula is only in it for a ship that she can use to get revenge on her sister. Leaving Yondu & Rocket in prison to bond over their respective difficulties in life. Groot comes in handy after he’s humiliated with a cute little Ravager outfit. Although he continually misunderstands Yondu wanting him to get his much more comic accurate prototype fin. With Rocket & Groot’s help, Yondu uses his whistling arrow to kill every Ravager that betrayed him. The delightfully upbeat “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans keeps the scene from being too dark.
As Kraglin helps them escape, Taserface alerts the Sovereign to their presence. What follows is an unexpectedly cartoony sequence where Rocket jumps through space at an exponential rate. It’s during this sequence that Stan Lee has a surprising cameo as an informant to the Watchers. Confirming every Marvel fans suspicion that the famous comic creator plays the same character every time he cameos. Of course I was just happy to finally see the all-important Watchers on the big screen. Meanwhile, most of the movie takes place on Ego’s planet. A visual treat with every color of the rainbow represented and a golden palace at the center. “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison was the perfect song to play. Apart from the Ravager stuff, Vol. 2 actually goes a long time without action. Most of that time is dedicated to Ego explaining his millenia old birth, need to spread his seed across the universe, and willingness to connect with his son using sculptures. Since Ego is a Celestial, Quill has energy powers drawn from his father’s light core. Of course he uses an energy ball to play catch with his dad. Peter gets even closer to Gamora by finally sharing a dance with her. Mantis raises suspicions when she gets closer to Drax and almost reveals Ego’s true plans.
As Gamora clears her head, Nebula suddenly shows up with a sneak attack. Gamora’s greatest feat of strength is using the ship’s enormous cannon to fire on her. As they fight, Nebula reveals that she only ever wanted to be Gamora’s sister, not an enemy. Together they discover Ego’s true intentions. Ego is like the antichrist in how he offers the Guardians paradise, but truly intends to terraform the entire galaxy in his own image. Turns out he has an ego the size of a planet. Every one of his alien children were killed and he’s responsible for giving Meredith brain cancer. Peter snaps out of his trance and obviously fires on his father. Even a moment as serious as this could use an out of nowhere David Hasselhoff cameo. He also provides a cheesy 80’s song for the soundtrack. Ego goes too far when he breaks Peter’s walkman and tries to use him as a battery. The rest of the Guardians finally arrive to fight off Ego in a crazy climax that makes up for the small doses of action. As Ego grows more maniacal, his comic accurate face on the planet is revealed. Their plan is to attach a bomb to Ego’s brain in order to destroy him. The only complication is the Sovereign arriving in more space pods.
Mantis sides with the Guardians by using her empathic abilities to put Ego to sleep for as long as she can. Yondu & Nebula become honorary members of the team as they fight alongside them as well. Yondu’s best line will always be “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” Gamora forms a stronger bond with Nebula as they fight, Drax protects Mantis from harm, and Rocket tries to explain to Groot how to detonate the bomb without killing everyone. Probably the funniest scene with Baby Groot. When all hope seems lost, Quill uses his heart to unlock his Celestial power in order to defeat his father. Can’t say I was expecting him to become Pac-Man, but I’ve learned to accept the movie’s silliness. Things get especially heartbreaking when Ego is destroyed and Yondu sacrifices himself to save his boy. Since the theme of the movie was fathers, Yondu redeems himself as the only man who truly cared about Peter. Making it the first MCU death that made me cry, because even with troll dolls and Night Rider references, Yondu’s funeral is played completely straight. The Ravagers honor their fallen comrade with a colorful salute that reveals all of his unexpected former teammates.
Kraglin replaces Quill’s walkman with a hilarious Zune that he uses to listen to “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens. In the end, Gamora connects with Nebula as she leaves, Rocket apologizes to the team, Drax sort of compliments Mantis, and Groot falls fast asleep. Vol. 2 also bears the distinction of having not 1, not 2, but 5 after-credits scenes. Luckily the credits are extra fun and worth watching. The first scene sees Kraglin attempting to use Yondu’s arrow in a humorously failed attempt that injures Drax. The second scene is a diehard Marvel fan’s dream come true. It reveals Yondu’s Ravager team to be the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 60’s comic. Stallone as Starhawk, Michael Rosenbaum as Martinex, Ving Rhames as Charlie-27, Michelle Yeoh as Aleta Ogord, the CGI Krugarr, and Miley Cyrus herself as the voice of Mainframe. The third scene is crucial in setting up Ayesha’s hand in creating the very important Adam Warlock. A character who would’ve appeared in the movie, but it was getting overstuffed. The fourth scene is a funny one that reveals a video game playing Groot as a preteen talking back to Quill. The fifth scene shows a bit more of Stan Lee with the Watchers. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t a surprise hit like the original, but it’s dedication to Marvel’s cosmic weirdness makes it fun.
Preceded by: Guardians of the Galaxy & Followed by: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3