Back in 2014, Guardians Of The Galaxy felt like lightning in a bottle when compared to a lot of the films trundling of the seemingly never-ending Marvel Studios conveyer belt.
Instead of brooding heroes and a plot packed to the rafters with characters and world-threatening dynamics, Guardians focussed on a rag-tag band of misfits thrown together by happenstance in a plot that was brimming with humour and wrapped in a swoon-worthy retro soundtrack. Equal parts Firefly and early Star Wars, Guardians didn’t have an ounce of fat on it; it was exciting, eye-popping and had more zingers than a Joss Whedon series.
So it went without saying that any sequel to this movie would have its work well and truly cut out for it.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review: Bigger, longer, more familiar
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 falls short of the brilliance of its predecessor and this is largely down to bloat. It’s bigger and more extravagant, but also longer than the first film and one can’t help but feel some trimming wouldn’t have hurt.
Furthermore, the combo of slick-looking sci-fi vistas and set pieces mixed in with a classic rock soundtrack has lost some of its punch. In the first film, the sight of anti-hero Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt) dancing around a dank alien cavern to Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” prompted goofy grins because it was so unexpected. Now, a scene in which Baby Groot bops to ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky” in the foreground of a lengthy shot while the Guardians battle a multi-tentacled monstrosity in the background is… well, part of the whole Guardians schtick.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review: Daddy issues
From the opening shots, which involve Quill’s mother and a man she professes to be in love with, viewers know Vol 2 is largely going to deal with Star-Lord’s origins. That man turns out to be Ego (played by Kurt Russell in ‘rugged charmer’ mode) who saves the Guardians from gold-skinned aliens known as the Sovereign after the team’s furry trouble-maker Rocket (once again voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals some rather valuable batteries from them. Yes, really.
Ego blows up the Sovereign space fleet – which is hilariously piloted remotely from what looks like a massive video arcade – but not before Quill’s ship takes enough of a hammering to cause it to crash land on a nearby planet.
There, after meeting up with his father – whom Quill still resents for leaving his mum to die alone on earth, to say nothing of his abduction by blue-skinned ne’er-do-well Yondu (Michael Rooker) – Star-Lord agrees to accompany Ego to his home planet to learn about his past. He’s accompanied by Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista), while Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket stay behind to repair the ship and babysit Gamora’s psychotic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians have picked up along the way.
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of the Sovereign hires Yondu to track down the Guardians so she can exact revenge. Yondu, incidentally, is having his own problems; he’s been exiled from the Ravagers for child trafficking and the men who’ve remained loyal to him think he’s going soft and should be replaced as leader. Hilarity ensues.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review: Sensory overload
If all of that sounds rather convoluted, bear in mind that’s just what happens in the film’s first half hour, which is a lot to pack in. That having been said, between the opening credits, spaces battles, crash-landings and the appearance of Ego in what looks like a giant egg, sensory overload takes its toll, making all of the proceedings feel drawn out.
This isn’t helped by the fact that director James Gunn’s sci-fi universe looks like an exploded bag of Jelly Tots at times. This isn’t the dark forbidding vacuum of the Alien films; rather, most vistas are shot through with vibrant colours, while spaceships, buildings and characters are largely off-the-wall both in terms of their presentation and personalities. Perhaps the most garish centrepiece is Ego’s home planet on which bright sun rays stream over alien vegetation and rocks outside an ornate palace that would look right at home on a prog-rock album cover from the 70s.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review: Human touch
Thankfully, the cast are more than capable of anchoring this surreal maelstrom. The main protagonists still boast the offbeat chemistry that made them such fun to be around in the first film and while a couple of sub-plots could’ve done with a bit more forward momentum – such as Quill’s and Gamora’s simmering relationship – things are hardly stagnant. The feud between Gamora and Nebula reaches a decent conclusion (for now), Drax finds himself a new – if repugnant – companion in the form of Ego’s valet Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Yondu’s arch contains beats one would never have expected from a story involving such a hard-bitten scallywag.
At the centre of it all stands Pratt as Star-Lord; part Han Solo, part Nathan Drake, Pratt conveys enough sardonic irreverence to give Quill an edge, but also enough humour and humanity to make him arguably the galaxy’s most loveable jerk.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 Review: Verdict
In a way, that appraisal works Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 as a movie too. It’s scrappy, fun and while it feels slightly long at times, it never wears out its welcome. It hits many of the same beats as the first film, but it can’t compete with its predecessor’s novelty factor. Then again, that’s the strength of nostalgia; the old wins out over the new every time.