Superheroes are likely to go the way of westerns, musicals and the dinosaurs within the next 5 years; your local box office is probably saturated on a regular basis by non-costumed men learning to become costumed superheroes before punching costumed super villains around New York, whilst several hundred digital minions try and get in on the action. And if it’s not an origin story, then it’s a sequel that has our hero learning more about punching people in New York, whilst selling us ten spinoffs lurking just around the corner (Hello Civil War!). And I say all this as someone who constantly champions Marvel’s output. Even if you’re a solid supporter of DC or Marvel, you’ve likely experienced a little cinematic universe fatigue.
Thank heavens then for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2; a sequel that manages to play all the same notes as its predecessor whilst still managing to be to be surprisingly emotional and, in a film that has a plant that can talk, feel small in scale. James Gunn returns from helming the first volume, picking up several space months later as Drax (David Bautisa), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Peter Quill AKA Star Lord (Chris Pratt) are now carving out a life for themselves as guns for hire. Oh, and in case you haven’t seen the trailer, there’s also Baby Groot, again played by Vin Diesel. Sidenote: Despite Groot’s obvious cuteness, there’s never a sense that Marvel is trying to sell him in the shopping aisles. Even though I’m sure that’s exactly what they want to/are.
After Rocket gets the gang in a spot of space bother, they’re quickly rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who not only reveals himself to be a sort of God, but also a sort of planet. Oh, and very definitely Peter’s father. It’s a no-brainer for Russell to play the part of Ego and, let’s be honest, out there in the vast multi-verse John Carpenter has directed Russell as Starlord in the 1985 adaptation of Guardians with a script written by James Cameron and Hulk Hogan as Drax. Probably.
Gunn is clearly having a whale of a time in his sandbox and it is his sandbox. Whilst names are dropped and there a few minor cameos from other Marvel properties, Gunn manages to keep the goings on with the Avengers at a good arm’s length whilst he gleefully slaughters dozens of bad guys to the tunes of Fleetwood Mac and The Sweet. He even breaks up the established gang quickly; splitting them up into groups that allow him get under the skin of his characters. Rocket sidles up with a returning Yondu (Michael Rooker), whilst Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora thrash it as only sisters can. Whilst Age of Ultron gave us more of what it thought we wanted – namely quips and… well see my first paragraph – Volume 2 feels like it’s grown organically from Volume 1. As if it hasn’t hashed out in a marketing board room.
It’s not all great news though. Whilst a dosage of heart has been injected into the narrative, with themes of family, fatherhood and love playing a large part, this attempt to water down the snarkiness of the first film results in the film’s clunkier moments. The dialogue isn’t ‘I’ve failed him in life. I won’t fail him in death’ bad, but there are moments where Volume 2 just doesn’t sparkle like you want it to.
That said, when the film gets it right, it really gets it right with numerous spectacular and often gut busting scenes. Hell, even the opening credits are worth the admission price alone with a great use of Mr Blue Sky. Perhaps one of the biggest strengths of film is Bautisa as the muscular and very literal Drax, who gets much more time on screen to grow, sharing his thoughts on love and life whilst living his life to great effect. If only we could all appreciate life as much as Drax, what happy people we would be. And it goes without saying that everyone else brings their A-game, including Chris Sullivan as the strangely monikered Taserface. Long story short, it’s just a really fun film.
Sadly, I can’t help but think that Avengers: Infinity War will dilute the goodwill of Volume 1 and 2 by trying to fit its anarchic square peg into Marvel’s corporate round hole. But we’ve got 12 months till that happens, so let’s enjoy what we have whilst we can.