Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Dan Abnett (based on the Marvel comics by)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell
The first Guardians of the Galaxy film was and still is my favourite comic book movie to ever be released. Gunn weaved magic, rolling out a fresh concept in a fairly bloated genre and ultimately rewarding Disney for the enormous risk they took. It possessed everything; humour in spades, emotion, action, amazing visuals and arguably the best soundtrack out there. It also had a quintet of characters that really anchored the film, transcending the story and forging an instant connection with the overwhelming majority of viewers.
It really was an impossible task then to better that piece of cinematic magnificence in the sequel and whilst James Gunn didn’t quite achieve the impossible, he still got mighty damn close. All the favourites are back and the same hilarious banter that made the first film is back with them. I’ve heard more than a few suggest that the humour was forced, that it didn’t quite pay off or hit the heights of the first. I can only go with my experience and Drax (Dave Bautista) alone had me in stitches at several points. He definitely served as the main comedy provider in the film this time, subsequently being robbed of a more beefier role in the action sequences, which was a minor disappointment. Whilst Chris Pratt as Quill, the other provider of near as many laughs, is a match made in heaven to the point where, like Jackman and Downey Jnr as Wolverine and Iron Man respectively, I honestly can’t envisage anybody else playing that role now.
The film excels in the first and middle act when it strangely lacks a notable plot or villain, instead choosing to primarily focus on the quintet (prominent side characters not withstanding) and the unique, almost dysfunctional, relationship they share with one another. I can relate more than most to this in many ways, as I have a similar relationship with my family, banter flying around and more than a few profanities flung in for good measure. Disney, caught on the hop originally, realised just how popular Baby Groot was going to be and capitalised fully in a brilliant, incredibly cute opener that also lets the viewer know that the music in the second instalment is going to be every bit as varied and good this time round. When Kurt Russell does finally return to the screen again as Quill’s estranged father (there’s a much younger CG version at the beginning which I actually loved), it becomes almost immediately apparent that something isn’t ringing quite true with him.
For one, his name is Ego, which is so glaringly not a name for a benevolent Demi-God. He attempts to reconnect with his prodigal son, explaining that he too has god-like powers, though slyly withholding his real motive until later. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker), the man who actually raised Quill steps in to provide some much needed action and a change of pace as the former settles into the transcendental, zen like, environment of Ego’s very own planet. (How fitting was My Sweet Lord by George Harrison during their arrival?) Rooker was absolutely fantastic in this film and the real standout performer. Just about everyone seemed to have a family issue at some stage; Quill with Ego, Gamora with Nebula, Drax and his daughter. Which made Yondu’s arc in particular all the more meaningful, providing some real emotional resonance to the film as his dealings with both Rocket and Quill further fed into the family dominant thematics at play.
If I was to have any criticisms then it would be the underuse of Gamora, those annoying gold gits and the way they continually made a nuisance of themselves at pivotal points, the climatic battle between Ego and the Guardians, and the latter’s suitability/choice as a villain in general. Kurt Russell was amazing don’t get me wrong, I’ve said it before, I love that man and his mere presence was felt here, believe me. It just felt to me like Gunn looked upon the plot and Ego as an afterthought though. His motivations and need for Quill were a little iffy and what was that bizarre jelly plant turning into a weird, city consuming, landslide thing all about? The gold aliens (I hate them that much, I refuse to even google their name) boiled my blood, they were that stupid and irrelevant to the story. As for the climatic battle; it just felt a little rushed, predictable and CG heavy. It wasn’t offensively bad or anything like that, but it was a small gripe nonetheless.
Ultimately though, much like in the first film, it’s all about the characters. They epitomise Guardians of the Galaxy for me and it was them I came back to see. The story didn’t have to be an epic, riveting tale, full of complicated twists, and quite frankly, it wasn’t. It was more inward looking, focusing on emotion and only really exploded into a Galaxy saving experience in the final act. I’m pleased to say that Gunn delivers and some in fleshing out the characters. He continued to develop the backstory of Gamora, her idiosyncratic relationship with Nebula and even the self-titled Starlord himself, delving a little further into his childhood and the relationship between him and Yondu in particular. He also delivered with an absolute belter of a soundtrack and visuals that were borderline eye porn at times. I loved just about every minute of this film and although it’s not quite as good as the first one, there’s not much in it.
If by some bizarre reason you haven’t yet watched this fantastic film, then I would absolutely recommend giving it a blast. Some things need to be experienced in a cinema and this is definitely one of them.