I’m gonna admit it. I only think Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty good. It’s a very fun film with a colorful cast of characters, a but a lot of people try to talk about it like it’s something much more. Many like to cite it as the example that, “Not all Marvel films are the exact same.” I disagree. Sure, the characters are completely absurd, but at its core, it’s just like any other Marvel comic film, complete with a paint by numbers plot, an underwritten villain, and a lack of stakes. A talking raccoon doesn’t make a typical hero’s journey any more unique. This is a problem with a lot of big blockbuster films today: just because the concept is unique, doesn’t mean the actual film itself is. Sometimes, it’s the exact same vehicle, but with a new coat of paint.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follows our titular heroes performing a contract job in exchange for Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). After Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) steals their employer’s belongings, he and his crew find themselves being hunted and crash land on a distant planet. Here, they meet Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial planet god, who reveals himself to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father. As Peter reconnects with his father, he now has to struggle with being more loyal to his newfound real family, or to the one he forged with the Guardians.

What made the first film work so well were the characters and their fantastic chemistry with each other. Every member of the team had their own unique personality and traits, all down to having their own distinct types of humor. The whole story of the first was about Peter finding a family; misfit people just like himself. What do they do in this film, now that they have this whole family angle established? Why, separate them, of course! Once the gang runs into Ego; Peter, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) go with him, while the rest of the crew stay behind. Aside from the first and last act, there’s not a whole lot of character action between our team. New characters are introduced for them to interact with, but they’re more so plot devices than characters. One character can literally read people’s emotions and thoughts, seemingly only so we can get exposition on how our character’s are feeling. Nothing is communicated visually.

Another thing that made the first film work so well was the fact that it was written and directed by James Gunn. Marvel seemed to give him a decent amount of creative control, and his distinct visual and comedic style really elevated the inherently bizarre characters. That same style is captured here, complete with the terrifically creative production design, costume design, makeup, and cinematography. He also understands that there needs to be an emotional core to latch onto, so all of the crazy visuals can mean something. He really just can’t help himself with the humor, though. The humor was a big part of what made the first film a bit different from the rest, and he really doubles down here. A lot of it works, but it’s really too much. Can we can have just one scene where a legitimate dramatic moment isn’t punctuated with some sarcastic quip?

Peter Quill’s story about finding a family and connection is expanded upon here with the introduction of his father. It felt like a natural place to take the story and character, and it tackles interesting themes about what true family really is. Aside from some cheesy exposition, all of his scenes with Ego are great, mostly due to Pratt and Russell’s natural chemistry. The rest of the team are given their own little side stories where they interact with other characters, but that’s really the biggest detriment to the film. Gamora spends most of the time with Nebula, Rocket Raccoon spends most of his time with a different character, Drax spends most of his time with a new one. After the action heavy first act, the film really drags in the middle when everyone is off doing their own thing. A lot of it boils down to people just talking about their feelings. It all feels disconnected and the chemistry is gone.

There’s just way too much stuff going on here. Surprisingly and refreshingly, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of annoying universe building stuff, but the plot is still way too busy with characters and plot lines. A lot of plot and character elements are established, but never go anywhere. The weird part is, it doesn’t feel like much really happens. It’s a very simple story being told and a lot of the film is just people standing around and talking to each other. Yes, characters are expanded upon, but the overall team doesn’t feel developed in anyway. Every character’s subplot has a purpose in building their character, but it never really all comes together. Gunn tries to tie it all together at the end with a horrible attempt at having an overarching theme and forced sentimentality. Unfortunately, all of the aspects surrounding it are so underdeveloped, it doesn’t work at all.

Just like the first, there’s a lot to like in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Marvel was wise to bring back Gunn, as it was nice to return to his zany world. The cast is just as great the first time around, with each actor further embodying their roles and furthering their characters. Everything just felt so tensionless and inconsequential, though. The characters were great, but they were all in service for a plot that and story that didn’t really lead anywhere. I will say, though, it was fun to go on a journey with these losers again.


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