Film Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn

Runtime: 2h 16m

It is becoming redundant at this point to say that Marvel understands how to balance quality and spectacle. Over the last decade, Marvel Studios have continuously produced quality coexisting blockbusters featuring overarching narratives that loosely tie each film together. But before James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014, its obscure source material and characters’ lack of cultural significance raised doubt that Marvel’s accumulating success would continue. This risk proved sensible, as the hilariously irreverent film became immensely successful and Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a thrillingly fresh extension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Three years later, Marvel has revisited their strange and wonderful cosmic addition with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While the sense of new is unavoidably absent in Vol. 2, the style, unique tone and diversely absurd characters that made the first film such a delight are entirely present.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doubles down on its predecessor’s sentimental core with an intimate family orientated story that continues the franchise’s claim as the most character driven offering in the Marvel cinematic canon. The plot follows the Guardians as they fight to keep their newly formed surrogate family intact while unravelling the enigmatic identity of Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) biological father. The individual arch of each character reflects the influence of a family’s presence and questions the definition of a traditional family structure. This commitment to an affable character driven narrative results in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 significantly benefitting from having a personal tone that so often blockbuster films tend to lack.

As with the first instalment of the franchise, Vol. 2‘s central narrative and core themes are developed and reflected through Starlord’s personal journey during the film. Quill’s unintentional discovery of his biological father and recovery of his father’s heritage and true motives epitomise the film’s stance on parentage and family dynamics. The film believes that a family’s influence on an individual is not inherently tied to their genetic bonds but rather genuine compassion. This is demonstrated during the film through the comparative bearing conveyed by Peter’s actual father, Ego (Kurt Russell), and his surrogate father, Yondu (Michael Rooker). The parallels between the two are fascinating, as Ego is a living planet with godlike powers while Yondu is a morally ambiguous scavenger. It is revealed in the film that Yondu was initially hired by Ego to retrieve Quill from Earth and deliver him to Ego but Yondu never did after becoming aware of Ego’s true nature and aspirations. This reveal amplifies the emotional impact levelled at the end of the film when Yondu sacrifices his own life for Peter’s, cementing his place as his true father. Prior to his death, there is a beautiful scene between Yondu and Rocket in which they bond over their mutual arrogance born out of fear of anyone ever getting close to them. In a conversation that begins as an argument, Yondu tells Rocket to not be him and to confront that fear, as being emotionally vulnerable will lead to a more fulfilling life. In this moment Yondu is also acting as a surrogate father for Rocket, a creature who not only never had a family but as the result of cruel experiments is the only known member of his species. It is a captivating turn for Yondu, a character whose appearance in the preceding film was that of a central villain.

Nebula (Karen Gillan) follows a similar transition from revengeful murderer to companion of the Guardians in Vol. 2. Nebula’s journey in the film is connected to that of her sister, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who she begins the film trying desperately to kill. During the film, they essentially take turns chasing and trying to kill each other accumulating with a violent exchange leading to the realisation that Nebula’s contempt towards her sister developed in response to their father never thinking she was good enough in comparison to Gamora and brutally mutilating her body as punishment. Their dynamic further reflects the film’s motif of poor fathering but where Peter’s father left him with his dying mother to be raised an orphan, Gamora and Nebula were orphans raised by Thanos. Although he was present in their lives, he only raised them to be constantly angry and murderous, continuously pitting them against one another. It is an extreme example but demonstrates that the key component of a positive paternal influence is not a presence but rather a compassion and a lack of hostility.

As with any James Gunn film, the humour here is superb and the soundtrack is crucial. This is shown from the opening sequence, a scene featuring Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) exaggerated dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra while the rest of his team exhaustively take on a large and vicious pink creature. For the entirety of the song, Gunn focuses on Baby Groot and his extensive choreography while various other characters are being violently tossed around by the creature in the background. It perfectly sets up the film’s absurdity and lighthearted tone, reminding the audience that regardless of the special effects and spectacle this remains at its core a wacky space opera centred on a talking racoon and sentient plant.

Marvel took a huge gamble with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and its success has led to the release of other great films based their more obscure canon material, such as Ant Man or Doctor Strange. It’s a gamble that continues to pay off in major ways, as shown by allowing James Gunn to make Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a truly unique sequel with a grounded family orientated story and zany cosmic wonder that promises a bright future for the franchise.