Can director James Gunn navigate the pratfalls of the difficult second album on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Give my review of Marvel's latest a read right here...
Marvel Studios have taken a fair few risks in their short time, but none as large as 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. The film saw indie horror director James Gunn write and direct a full-length feature film about some D-list comic characters that the average cinemagoer wouldn't have known from Adam. That Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are now household names tells you everything you need to know about the film's subsequent success.
Flash-forward to 2017 and the sophomore effort (once again written and directed by Gunn) doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of its predecessor - it's simply more of the same, albeit without the feeling of seeing something fresh and exciting for the first time that the original film had up its sleeve. Although, Gunn once again serves up a smoking hot plate of colourful action, hilarious dialogue and spacefaring wackiness, which works like gangbusters 80% of the time and feels only a tad tiresome during the rest.
Set only a few months after the first movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sees the gang pursued across the cosmos by a new foe after a contract goes awry. When they bump into a mysterious man claiming to be Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) long-lost father, old enemies become new allies and a threat against the entire universe starts to reveal itself.
First, let's cover the positives. The cast continue to flourish under Gunn's tutelage and acute understanding of what makes them tick. If there is one thing this movie has going for it, it's the character work. At its core, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about familial issues. You've got Peter and his grievances with both his adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his biological father Ego; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), two warring sisters at each others throats; and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), lifelong friends without a family to call their own except one another.
Gunn eschews wall-to-wall action in favour of a more contemplative middle act that breaks the characters off into smaller groups, allowing this tension and drama to bubble to the surface. Pratt in particular sells this side of things, along with Rooker (surprisingly), Saldana and Gillan.
The action also packs a hefty punch; bursting with vivid colour and fantastic visual effects, Gunn dials up the outlandish cosmic elements to 11. Crazy planets, weird character design and a whole spectrum of odd aliens make this another eye-popping entry. The soundtrack is another winning element, including a range of tunes from the likes of ELO, Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens, to name a few.
You could safely skip it and feel assured you haven't missed much aside from the fairly small circle of characters and even smaller circle of locations with which this film concerns itself. It doesn't broaden the galaxy or deepen the world, choosing instead to only explore a handful of characters. I feel like I know more about Gamora and Star-Lord, but what of the wider universe? The looming threats that were set up in the first film?
The ending (again, no spoilers) is emotional, that's for sure. All that character work pays off and you can't help but feel a little choked up. But I'll go back to my earlier point - what, aside from one or two minor things, has changed? Very little. It's throwaway fun, with the emphasis on the throwaway.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
As cliched as it may sound, Guardians of the Galaxy is the typical difficult second album. It struggles to feel as fresh or essential as the first and may take a couple of spins to truly come good, but the mind-bending cosmic weirdness and firm focus on character development means its never not interesting, even if it would have flourished if Gunn chucked in a greater sense of stakes towards the end.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas across Australia now. It opens in the United States on May 5.