“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2” begins with the team bickering like pest exterminators waiting for the epic tentacled beast they’ve been hired to squash. Just as the beast arrives to consume precious batteries and the crew are there to greet it, the camera pans down to Baby Groot. He’s relinquished his pot and has been asked to plug in a sound system that Rocket has set up for them to listen to while they ‘work.’ Plugging in the jams and dancing around the bickering, slashing and destruction; “Vol.2” makes it clear, Gunn and Co. want to take us back to those moments of adoration and joy that concluded our viewing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) best and most original entry “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Vol.2” returns to our ‘rag tag’ group of heroes Star Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel on helium) exploiting their newfound notoriety as soldiers for hire taking on galactic monsters. When Rocket greedily lifts some of the space batteries that the crew have been hired to protect, their employers the Sovereign, a group of golden gamers with a hive superiority complex led by Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha, chases them off-world. Our Guardians narrowly avoid death - thanks to a last minute intervention by Ego (Kurt Russell), Peter Quill’s mysterious celestial father, and his servant Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Gunn and the production design team create fantastical planet designs, shiny and vibrant like a freshly painted graffiti mural. The intergalactic travel-hopping gets a great treatment that the “Treks” and the “Wars” with their passive hyperspace drives don’t. The jumps shake the riders around as they bounce through the portals of space and time, like they’re the ball in a game of Mouse Trap. Their stretching bodies begin to swell and jiggle like Arnie experiencing Mars atmosphere in Paul Verhoven’s “Total Recall.” The soundtrack is absolutely jam packed with incredible tunes from Cheap Trick, Fleetwood Mac, Electric Light Orchestra, George Harrison, Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie that have a way to feel obvious and inspired.
The critical reactions or hot-take about “Vol.2” were that the film packs an ‘unexpected’ emotional punch. Saying that addresses the deficiency in the MCU to date. It seems self-evident that great sequels go deeper with characters, to their motivations and then in further sequels, explore their deepest fears and secrets (“Godfather Part II”, “Empire Strikes Back”, “The Dark Knight”, “Goldstone” to name a few). Great sequels also challenge our characters’ view of the world, and the perceptions that shaped them. (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day”). For the majority of the crew (and some new additions) that’s absolutely the case. “Vol. 2” does this by separating the crew from each after their narrow escape from their gold coloured gamers, the Sovereign.
Yondu’s (Michael Rooker) crew suffers a mutiny and is imprisoned alongside Rocket and Baby Groot. Rocket’s unrelenting jerkiness bounces off of Yondu. He looks at the furry, tormented, robotic creation and sees the same level of insecurity and yearning. His incongruous behaviour is the little feral being wrestling with love and hurt. Yondu is under the spotlight. Confronted by other Reaver leaders in the form of Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) - a “Cliffhanger” reunion - we learn that Yondu has broken the Reaver code, and that something sinister placed him in exile. Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) have exchanges in “Vol. 2” that use insane book violence and demigod durability to elevate sibling rivalry and sadistic parent motivated face-offs to new levels. In these quiet and vicious exchanges between sisters we began to get the slightest sense of the depths of the MCU’s biggest bad, Thanos (Josh Brolin). Mantis is a welcome addition to the gang, her empathic powers allow her to share feelings with those she makes contact with. The trailers shared a wonderful moment where she reveals Quill’s feelings for Gamora. Drax laughs in Quill’s face and begs for Mantis to have a turn. Bautista’s Drax once again essentially steals every scene that he’s in; remaining blissfully open about every feeling and thought. Yondu, Rocket and Groot’s revenge on the mutinous crew feels like someone has flicked the switch on your depressing playlist and kicked in The Jackson 5’s ‘I want you Back’ or Redbone’s ‘Come and Get Your Love,’ after 10CC on repeat.
The central conceit of the film, exploring Peter’s father and Ego’s higher purpose did not jive with me whatsoever. Despite the reveal of Quill’s powers at the climax of the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the mystery of Star Lord’s lineage - despite being loaded ‘daddy issues’ – did not make a connection with this reviewer. It was as emotionally stale as Ego’s trophy room of mutating porcelain memories. Reflecting on it, everything was laid out so thick that beats in the narrative that were already evident metaphorically eventually manifested as literal things. In particular there’s a scene where Quill and Ego play space catch with a ball of energy instead of a baseball that hits peak saccharin. If you play ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens / Yusuf you have actually said it all. This leads Quill to examine the differences between raised and being sired.
The final credits treatment is a thing of beauty. Despite the complete overkill of having to watch all those damned post credits sequences (five in total), the vinyl cover wallpaper conveyer aesthetic made the wait for the next fifteen Marvel movies to be established bearable.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” doesn’t claim the title from its predecessor, but that does not make it a disappointment. The first film is a slice of percussive squash-buckling perfection that it was its own hard act to follow. “Vol. 2” doesn’t get the awesome mix right this time; in some stretches the tracks just don’t complement one another. The delay and detour for Quill doesn’t change the destination for the Guardians of the Galaxy, who will return and so will we to any movie that they occupy.
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.