By default, following up Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be tough. The 2014 film was a unique piece of work, even for the MCU. It took a risk in introducing the cosmic side of Marvel to the silver screen. James Gunn’s script leaned into the funnier side of the franchise at large, delivering the jokes fast and hard. And they landed! By god they landed!
As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens, it seems like Gunn and company have recreated that same sense of magic and humor. The film opens with an action sequence set to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” The action isn’t the focus; instead, we follow Baby Groot dance around the battle as the rest of the Guardians slaughter the Inter-Dimensional Beast of the Week.
And then it ends. After escaping from Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and the Sovereign, the Guardians crash land on a planet, soon followed by Kurt Russell’s Ego the Living Planet (in human form). Ego reveals to the group that he is Peter’s father and they go off to the planet itself. Michael Rooker’s Yondu also makes an appearance here, but he quickly disappears until the final act of the film.
The rest of the film suffers from what many sequels suffer from: the feeling that the danger the team is under has no stakes. Peter Quill and company need not fear; Marvel has them signed for three more films.
That being said, Vol. 2 balances its nature as a standalone film and its place in the MCU better than many other MCU films. All of the larger world building happens off the side. Extended cameos from Sylvester Stallone, Howard the Duck (again) and others open interesting doors for the Guardians franchise without intruding on the film itself.
Once the film shifts to the planet Ego, where the film spends most of its two-hours-and-change runtime, the film’s momentum screeches to a halt. It plods along, with the audience waiting for Peter and his dad to finally throw down. In the meantime, Gunn was wise enough to bring Karen Gillan’s Nebula back from the first installment and continue to follow Yondu in separate subplots. Neither of them are particularly unique, but they’re certainly more interesting than the main plot.
Staying on Ego has another problem: The film becomes too bright. It overdoses on color, throwing variety out the window in favor of a technicolor mess. It doesn’t look good. This blunts the effect of the set design and cinematography, both of which have their moments in other locales in the film.
The film is largely saved by Yondu, Nebula and Drax, all of whom get their moment in the sun. Drax in particular gets a bevy of great lines as the literalist of the group; he also gets to hint at a deeper side that could come into starker relief later in the MCU.
Yondu’s arc is perhaps the most rewarding; he comes back into the main plot at a point where the film sorely needs him. He gives the third act some of the energy that harkens back to the original. The film closes on a positive note, but it takes a while to get there.