Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

From writer/director James Gunn, who blasted his away into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2014's rambunctious debut of Guardians of the Galaxy, the highly-anticipated follow-up to the space adventure reels in the motley crew of aliens and outlaws for another trip across the cosmos. With Vol. 2 diving into not only the interwoven personalities of its still-fresh team of galactic protectors, but also the more expansive beings of the galaxy, the latest from Marvel Studios settles in for another high-octane thrill-ride with more emotional power than you might expect. 

Still fairly fresh in the game of keeping the galaxy safe from harm, the Guardians (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper) have found themselves a steady life as the protectors of the cosmos and all its beings. After a minor slip-up leaves them on the run from the all-perfect society of the Sovereign, led by their leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the team crash-lands on a distant planet. Soon discovered by a mysterious being known as Ego (Kurt Russell), the Guardians are quickly divided as Ego's true intentions are realized. With the mysterious parentage of the Guardians' leading-man Peter Quill (Pratt) in question, and the powerful Sovereign army at their backs, the intergalactic team of outlaws must fight to not only find the truth, but also stay one step ahead of their enemies. 

With the latest superhero sequel from Marvel Studios promising twice the laughs, double the breath-taking special effects, and an equally nostalgic counterpart to the first film's rocking soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was stacking up to be one of the biggest films of 2017. Now that it's finally here, and the acclaim for Disney's blockbuster franchise continues to flourish, once more another perfectly polished -- but not all-together great -- film is set at my feet. With Marvel's latest feature sending up even more intergalactic hijinks and classic '70s rock, now with daddy issues and more colorful characters than before, what Vol. 2 lacked in overall memorability, made up for with some glitzy action set-pieces and a handful of mildly compelling character arcs.

With nearly fifteen total films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe now, including some impressive introduction films, some sloppy sequels, and a few odd-balls like Guardians of the Galaxy, you could say the highly-anticipated sequel to the space adventure had a lot of pressure to stand out. With James Gunn's signature off-the-wall storytelling and visual style, that didn't make it much of a challenge when it came to pushing out a quality film. However, like most Marvel sequels, living up to the hype and surpassing the first film is a challenge all its own. While Vol. 2 might surely have the brilliant style of its predecessor, from its music to its charismatic slew of outlaws, the ultimate flow of the film's story was one of the major issues of the film.

Before I dive into the more critical details of the film, I'll begin first with what made Vol. 2 one of Marvel Studios' best sequels. Riding off the success of its predecessor, which managed to make one of the more obscure comic-book teams as relevant today as the Avengers, Vol. 2 brought back the team of outlaws and aliens in a way that worked to not only draw out more of their individual humor and mannerisms, but also develop some of the relationships explored in the first film. One of the most dynamic elements of the film became how the central team of the Guardians, as well as a few secondary characters, interacted with one another. From Michael Rooker's Yondu's relationship with Chris Pratt's Star-Lord to the conflicted sibling rivalry between Zoe Saldana's Gamora and Karen Gillian's Nebula, the interwoven dynamics between the film's characters managed to keep fans interested in their latest adventure.

That being said, while the dynamic of its characters might have been a central aspect of the film, it also managed to gravitate the film into a very muddled story structure. While the film did leave time to focus on the complicated relationship between dueling sisters Gamora and Nebula, as well as the budding chemistry between Dave Bautista's Drax and Pom Klementieff newcomer Mantis, the film was heavily geared towards establishing the complex lore behind Kurt Russell's Ego. With the film essentially cutting its plot in two in order to leave the majority to Russell and Pratt's father-son bonding, it left other characters with only a few minor scenes to get their spotlight. While Russell and Pratt's vibrant chemistry did make their scenes enjoyable, I was left wanting more from characters like Yondu and Bradley Cooper's Rocket, who were some of the brief highlights of the film.

Once more, to little surprise, the music was a major highlight of the film as well. Whether it was used to propel an action scene into the opening credits or make an emotional scene more meaningful, the classic rock vibe of the film's soundtrack managed to kick ass just as it did in the first film. While some songs, such as the Sneepers' "Guardians Inferno" featuring actor/singer David Hasselhoff, might have just worked to boost the film's satire, songs like Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" managed to elevate the film's emotional scenes to a level greater than what you might expect from most modern superhero films.

Overall, while it might not surpass the original, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a satisfying sequel that worked to bring emotion to its story and further connections between its central cast. While its plot might get sidetracked a bit when it leans on its over-arching father-son dynamic, the chemistry of the film's cast, as well as all the vibrant space action along the way, make Vol. 2 an enjoyable and compelling Marvel film to kick off the summer season.

I gave Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a 7 out of 10 for its compelling characters -- from its villain to its many alien anti-heroes -- its lively sci-fi action, and its fluent soundtrack that works to balance the film's exciting scenes of action with moments of comedy and heartbreak.          

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