Editor’s Notes: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens in wide theatrical release today, May 5th.
If the Fast & the Furious franchise has taught us anything – and arguably, it’s taught us a great deal in the life-lesson department – it’s that “family” comes first, second, and last. Anyone who doesn’t learn that lesson will be forced to relearn it in a seemingly never-ending series. Of course, super-cool cars, CGI-aided stunts, collisions, and crashes, all set to the latest and greatest in urban-flavored pop music, don’t exactly hurt. Neither do a charismatic, multi-ethnic cast or a series-spanning approach that deftly mixes comedy and drama, intimacy and spectacle, and crazy ideas with inventive ones, but we’re not here to praise the Fast & Furious series (already done elsewhere), but to play the compare-and-contrast game with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, writer-director James Gunn’s (Super, Slither) sequel to 2014’s box-office hit (more than $770 million U.S.). Earthbound or in outer space, the Fast & the Furious and the Guardians of the Galaxy series cover roughly similar thematic and narrative ground. If Vol. 2 is any indication, we might be seeing Guardians-related adventures for the next decade or two.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 contains even bigger, if not always better, visual effects-heavy set pieces than its predecessor.
As Gunn obviously knows, families can bring us down or raise us up. The family-embracing, galaxy-saving guardians we re-meet in Vol. 2 are getting on each other’s nerves, but as they learn – and we learn through them – the band of outcasts, outsiders, and ex-criminals just can’t quit each other. Even after a self-sabotaging Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals a handful of super-powered super-batteries (you did, in fact, read that correctly), from the Sovereign, a race of self-entitled, golden-skinned one-percenters, necessitating a quick, potentially deadly escape from the Sovereign’s remotely controlled drone ships (Gunn cleverly turns the Sovereign’s remote pilots into over-confident, easily flummoxed videogamers), breaking up the Guardians isn’t an option, at least not metaphorically. They actually do go their separate ways, but only after Ego (Kurt Russell), an alien who drops out of seemingly nowhere to save the Guardians before they lose everything, takes a page from Darth Vader and The Empire Strikes Back and declares that he’s Peter “Star-Lord” Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost, biological father. Naturally enough, Quill can’t wait to hop aboard Ego’s egg-shaped spaceship and go where no Guardian has gone before: Ego’s seemingly uninhabited homeworld.
While Quill and Ego play a touching game of catch with an energy ball, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) basically chills in the background and Drax (Dave Bautista) semi-bonds with Ego’s socially awkward personal assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Rocket, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), and Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s estranged sister and current prisoner of the Guardians, hang back on another planet, making necessary repairs on their damaged ship, eventually fending off Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his hygiene-challenged Ravagers (i.e., space pirates), by any means necessary. Those “means” include some of the two-film series smartest, Looney Tunes-inspired sight gags, the result of Rocket’s expertise with all manner of weapons and booby-traps. Yondu has problems of his own, specifically a near mutinous crew and his inability to shake off his fatherly feelings for his onetime protégé, Star-Lord, essentially turning Vol. 2 into a Platoon-inspired battle for Quill’s soul. Gamora and Nebula have deep-seated family issues to resolve. And Thanos, the all-powerful, near-immortal, godlike being who adopted them and raised them as his daughters? Thanos gets multiple shout-outs, but never seen, though curiously Gunn fails to give Nebula and Drax a chance to bond over their mutual hatred for Thanos or their desire to force Thanos into permanent retirement.
Like Guardians of the Galaxy three years ago, Gunn and his production team consciously opt for lush, swirling, vibrant colors and dazzling, Baroque set designs, and set pieces . . .
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 contains even bigger, if not always better, visual effects-heavy set pieces than its predecessor. More often than not, they’re impressively inventive, unlike anything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), with the possible exception of last year’s mind-bending acid trip, Doctor Strange, due primarily to Marvel’s confidence in Gunn’s prodigious, world-building talent and an eccentric, idiosyncratic sensibility rarely found in big-budget, spectacle-driven filmmaking. We don’t get the gigantic, dismembered head of a long-dead, godlike species, the Celestials (a Marvel comic-book mainstay), turned way station and mining camp here, but we get the second best thing: Ego. He’s not just a super-powered space alien. Ego is another godlike being, a being so vast, he’s also a living planet. (We can thank Stan Lee and the late Jack “King” Kirby for creating Ego fifty years ago.)
Like Guardians of the Galaxy three years ago, Gunn and his production team consciously opt for lush, swirling, vibrant colors and dazzling, Baroque set designs, and set pieces as memorable as anything in the Star Wars universe, not to mention another classic rock/pop mixtape that functions as an integral, integrated element. Gunn gives us so much visually, conceptually, and thematically, that it’s easy to forgive Vol. 2’s occasional lapses (e.g., over-emphatic, trying-too-hard jokes, overlong, over-indulgent scenes) and hope for more of the same, except different, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 inevitably rolls around post Avengers: Infinity War.
Gunn gives us so much visually, conceptually, and thematically, that it’s easy to forgive Vol. 2’s occasional lapses.