Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Review — Better than the First in Every Way

I don’t like the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie nearly as much as the rest of the world seemed to. It felt like it was constantly trying too hard to make me like it, and the characters annoyed me. It didn’t click into a cohesive, functional whole story-wise either…although I loved Rocket and Groot.

The new sequel, Vol. 2, outdoes the original in every way, leans hard into its own eccentricities, and even takes some steps to fix/redeem the first movie’s plot.

And now I’m fully back on-board.

This review is light on spoilers. I’m going to jump around a bit to give you the highlights of what I enjoyed without ruining any of the actual important plot moments.

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I’m a big fan of licensed music when it’s used to full and powerful effect. That’s why I loved Hardcore Henry. Even though it’s not the greatest film ever, it uses Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” incredibly well.

When GOTGV2 opens, Looking Glass’s “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” comes roaring out of the speakers.

I raised my eyebrow at this. Disney/Marvel caught me right away. And then didn’t let me go.

I have to applaud Disney for their weird commitment to creating convincing CGI- headed characters. They started out rough with de-aged Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy, but in the last few years they’ve elevated these weird computer heads to an art form.

You don’t have to wait long to see the latest iteration. Along with “Brandy,” we’re treated to a perfect-looking 80’s Dairy Queen. And then, the early 80’s Kurt Russel that shows up is fantastically good here, to the point where it totally convinced me.

Kurt Russel plays Ego, a god/planet/being thing that may or may not be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) missing father hinted at in the first film. This relationship is one of several that forms the core of the movie. That’s what makes this movie really work: it’s not about all the shooting and the saving of worlds, it’s about characters and their relationships to each other.

Oh sure, there’s still two big action movie plots here, but they matter only inasmuch as they advance the relationships. There’s these golden “perfect” people from a world named Sovereign who are after the Guardians because of their behavior in the brilliantly-staged opening action sequence. And there’s a malevolent force that wants to take over the universe.

In spite of these big epic stories framing the narrative, the movie manages to do all of its work almost entirely at the small scale…and totally pull it off. It’s full of rousing action sequences, some of the most expensive-looking effects moments I’ve ever seen, and thrilling escapes…but every single one is in service of the emotional elements of the story and the relationships between the characters.

Thank goodness.

This new movie earns all of its emotional payoff moments and answers all the lingering questions from the first movie in the process.

All of the actors are given the chance to do work here, and not just be a-listers under piles of colorful makeup. The licensed soundtrack is used to comment on/enhance the moments happening in the film, and not just as fun, recognizable window-dressing.

Also, and this is important…the movie is much less mean to women. The first film has a weird misogynist streak running through it right from the beginning, where Peter bangs up a girl he “forgot about” who was in the hold of his ship during the opening action sequence. Haha! Look! Violence against random women is funny right guys? Guys?

I didn’t get that same “Ugh” feeling from any of the jokes here, and the movie is so much better for it. Yes, Drax is openly mean once or twice to newcomer bug lady Mantis…but she and Drax are kindred spirits, and he does this from a place of true deep affection this time around. It helps develop his character and give some insight into who he is without the yuck of his shouting “Whore!” in the first movie.

Let’s talk a little bit about Baby Groot.

Baby Groot is good enough to steal this whole movie. I’d probably watch a whole movie that was just about Baby Groot. He gets three standout sequences…but isn’t overused, to the point where I felt like he was in the movie just enough. Which is perfect.

He lends the whole movie a childlike innocence that keeps things fun even when they get deep.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the movie:

  • The main conceit of the bad guy is a little bit too much like the ending of Doctor Strange, another film I also liked. Like, I’m suprised that no one at Marvel said “No we can’t do this twice in a row think of a different ending/villain thing.”
  • Looking Glass’s “Brandy” is featured prominently two times in the movie: at the beginning, and in the middle…and then never shows up a third time. This bothered me from a traditional writing structure “Do the thing three times” perspective.

That’s it. Those are my only complaints.

From that review then, you’d think that this was my favorite Marvel movie. But it’s not really. It’s so unlike the other movies, and so committed to its impressively-written and functional emotional core that it doesn’t really feel like the same sort of thing. It leans entirely into weirdness and emotional payoffs, and the action sequences are the window-dressing. Every other Marvel film is about the illusion of consequences, and for the first time…this one has actual, proper character development.

Also it’s the first one they’ve shot on the RED camera system, and as a result the colors POP in a way that none of the other Marvel movies have. The drab gray look of every other film in the franchise is gone and I hope it never comes back!

I’m sure this movie will do well…but I don’t know that it represents a good path forward for the franchise, at least if Disney wants to maintain huge success at the box office. It’s a little too weird, goofy, and emotional to be the template for every one of these going forward, but I so love that it exists.

Please click the heart if you liked this review, and maybe I’ll do some more in the future. Thank you!

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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