Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a movie marked by the anxieties of offsprings. It’s got its sequel status to contend with, of course: the first Guardians blew in like fresh air just as the MCU was expanding into more cosmic and psychedelic palettes, with its oddball characters and sassy, confident soundtrack.

In practice its innovation had a limit, working along beats already established by Robert Downey Jr. and company: smart-alec, irreverent dialogue, a save-the-world narrative, and a big finale smackdown against a bland villain with a forgettably baroque name.

The marketing for Guardians cleverly internalised their unknown status into a ragtag-loser underdogness and hit unsuspecting audiences with canyabelieveit weirdness.

The result was a competent, crowd-pleasing, zippy space adventure with storytelling caution. Guardians Vol. 2 arrives flush with confidence, offering a continuation and, in emotional terms, an expansion of the series’ established dynamic, succeeding by keeping a sharp eye on stakes.

GOTG2’s best quality is its self-contained story that bends character arc and action; the effect is similar to a good episode of Futurama. Characters are forced to work through the trauma that defines them, and there’s a lot of family angst to go around.

Still hurting is Chris Pratt’s roguish Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, the lost little boy from Earth whose maternal deathbed scene started this whole thing. Vol 2 serves him a real emotional supernova.

We open on a weirdly de-aged Kurt Russell in pure 80s goodness, falling in love with Quill’s Earthling mother; after the gang escape some bother with Elizabeth Debicki’s race of gold-sheen snobs, Russell shows up and presents Quill with the father he’s been aching for.

But here’s the rub; he’s revealed as Ego, The Living Planet, a being whose removal from the empathic realities of human life and all-consuming desire for expansiveness will force Quill to make a hard decision about exactly which family he belongs to, and what he’s willing to sacrifice to get it.

This is area the Marvel films have notoriously struggled with: charismatic, interesting villians with an actual connection to the internal lives of the heroes, and they lucked out with Russell.
There is something admirably brash about Guardians Vol 2, much of which can be traced to the screw-it cockiness of writer/director James Gunn, who swaggers like a punk-indie kid getting away with something. But the looseness sometimes gets out of hand; even when it’s fun, it could’ve been reined in.

The opening scene is a sly diversion from the cliché of superhero movies opening with a minor action sequence, setting the alien-monster scrapping in the background while the camera follows Baby Groot dancing to Electric Light Orchestra. It’s a solid concept, but it goes on a little long, the first example of the film not quite knowing when to wrap up a gag or a thematic point. Even the finale, more beautiful and moving than nearly anything the MCU has done, can’t help itself, ending up a little on the nose.

Still, everyone gets arcs, and even when the narrative sags the character beats still work. Quill has to come to terms with his paternal absence, and learn to appreciate the love given to him elsewhere; feuding half-sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana, getting more to do than green-skinned love interest) and Nebula (still-great Karen Gillan), are the little girls brutalised by Thanos into constant combat, but get to work through their rage; Dave Bautista’s wonderfully dry Drax and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket confront and express their own issues.

The biggest emotional surprise, though, is Michael Rooker’s Yondu, the a-hole smuggler from the first film chasing after the bounty on the Guardians, and whose motivations for snatching up the young Quill get recast in sympathetic terms.

­It’s a funny and robust sequel, but it’s an appreciation for the loneliness of the outsider that lifts GOTG2 above its superhero competition.

Conor Smyth

Odyssey Cinema has multiple screenings Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with selected VIP screenings, and it’s rated 12A. Book at

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