Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 begins to drop around the world over the weekend before its North American debut next week and will hope to blow the surprising success of its predecessor out of the galaxy. That $773 million grossing smash hit became something of a surprise hit for Marvel, becoming their third highest-grossing film at the time and made a genuine star out of leading man Chris Pratt. James Gunn returns to the fold as writer and director of the space opera, with a number of the quirky characters and the cast members that brought them to life back for the journey. It will almost certainly be one of the biggest films of the year and most likely the biggest of the summer - the only question is how high it will go.
Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are known across the universe as the Guardians of the Galaxy, working for hire as a dysfunctional family unit. Leader of the Sovereign race, Ayesha, offers Gamora's estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), in exchange for protecting the planet's batteries - but the Sovereign later turn on the Guardians and send a fleet of drones to find and kill them. Crashing on a nearby planets, they are saved by Ego (Kurt Russell) - Peter's father - and are invited to his home planet. With old foes becoming allies and new threats emerging, the Guardians face their biggest intergalactic battle yet - one that not all of them are likely to survive.
Without question, this is the most visually spell-binding and jaw-dropping Marvel film of all time, rivalling pretty much every blockbuster release in recent years through its arresting and hypnotising visuals. Director James Gunn knows how to direct a superhero film, with colour palettes and saturations oozing from each and every frame with such dazzling effect. Volume 2's absolutely gorgeous theatrical poster (above) only gives you q brief insight into the world created, magnificently popping with every single colour on the spectrum. Set pieces are terrific, with the production design and special effects of the very highest quality, each completely different to the last but tied together cohesively from a visual standpoint. Action-beats are scattered throughout the film at a decent pace, with its 136 minute runtime flying in a blur of technicolour dreams. Gunn's fun and glossy superhero flick benefits from its 3D conversion too, accentuating the splashy visuals as a wonder to behold. Matching the vigour of the visuals is the music, released as Awesome Mix Vol. 2 soundtrack, scoring scenes creatively, with Tyler Bates' score offering a helping hand here too. Oh, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 features the opening title sequence of all time, playful and exuberant.
Adding even more life to Guardians 2 is the likeable characters that populate the piece and the committed cast that bring them to life. Pratt, with comedy built into his bones as proved throughout his time in Parks & Recreation, delivers some cracking one-liners but incorporates some genuine emotion, powering the film through his well-balanced performance. In general, outing number two is far funnier and sharper, bettering itself from the number one in this area, mainly encompassed through Pratt's Quill. Saldana, under-utilised but impressive, conveys a feistiness as Gamora, sharing some terrific scenes with Gillian's Nebula; their history continues to be one of the most intriguing elements of the film and Volume 2 provides further insight into that relationship, operating as a character study very efficiently. Drax is oddly more charming in this venture, in part because of Bautista's willingness to hold nothing back. Rocket and Groot still haven't been sold to me yet but they are the root of some hilarious moments, even if the 'I Am Groot' line is just as tiresome now as it was the first time out. Kurt Russell as Ego and Pom Klementieff as Mantis are solid additions to the cast, both quirky additions to the variety of characters the franchise has introduced thus far.
Volume 2's biggest issues are deep rooted in its lacklustre narrative. While the script presents some genuine funny lines, notably but understandably skewed to the American taste, and some fine action beats, it is too scattershot to feel utterly cohesive. After a move that causes our team to separate in the middle of the first act, our protracted action finale is approached from a variety of directions, engendering a very scattershot film that approaches a very messy state on a number of occasions. Volume 2 fails to shake off the feeling that this is a filler chapter, sandwiched by the all-important opening instalment and the momentous Avengers: Infinity War in just two years time; an absolutely enjoyable and expensive filler chapter, but acting as a buffer period nonetheless. While Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a bolder, more unique approach to the superhero genre, Volume 2 does not feel as refreshing as said instalment, following a somewhat formulaic and predictable route. Some things come as a genuine surprise in the grand finale, including a significant and genuinely touching dispatch but others are far more obvious than one would like, meaning the element of surprise is lacking a little more in this chapter. It is a shame that the picture feels stuck where it is, between more crucial chapters and toying with the idea of presenting a character-driven, thematically-deeper instalment and amping up the film to be bigger and badder than before. I'd argue that the script and narrative is the only place Volume 2 really falls down, but there are too many problems directly related to this critical element to be ignored completely.
Those that loved Guardians of the Galaxy will love this second volume just as affectionately. Looking at it in retrospect, I probably enjoyed this chapter more so than the first, mainly due to the absolute beauty of this second instalment and not feeling fully won round to the charm of the first. Vol. 2 registers in the top-end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and strikes a nice balance between humour, emotion, action and adventure that means there will be something on offer for audiences of all ages. Performances and characters are beyond charming, with almost everyone - old and new members - winning audiences over through dedicated turns from those that bring them to screen. Gunn fires on all cylinders from a directorial aspect despite slipping up on a narrative footing. Volume 2 ends on an incredible moving note that excites us for the next adventure for the Galaxy's Guardians, even if the current one is filler, still killer.
Summary: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is more of the same in an even more vibrant, visually-arresting and jaw-dropping package, delivering action, emotion and comedy because of its committed cast and likeable band of characters. Its narrative and script prove to be the biggest let down but there is more than enough to entertain audiences of all ages.
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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) (Mini-Review)