The post-prologue scene of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, where we see Baby Groot dancing to a backdrop of a chaotic fight with a giant, tentacled alien, could be taken as a nice summary of the rest of the movie: an action-packed visual extravaganza replete with imaginative ways of killing baddies, the Guardians attempting to work effectively as a team despite their differences, a retro art style and soundscape, and plenty of self-aware humor.
Oh and Baby Groot steals the show. As is to be expected.
Does this mean that the movie is predictable? Well… it’s hard to find a superhero movie that’s not these days, and audiences have come to expect that. You don’t go to Marvel movies for innovations in storytelling. You go for a wild romp.
That said, I enjoyed the Guardians movies far more than I did, say, Dr. Strange, in part because of the way they revel in their own self-deprecating camp. Star-Lord knows you’re laughing at him, and hell, he loves attention, so why not play it up? It’s this humor that gave the first movie much of its charm. Volume 2 is no different, filled with self-absorbed, douchey aliens, a typically clueless Drax, and plenty of intra-team banter.
Where the movie doesn’t quite seem to deliver is in trying to flesh out the team’s emotional dynamics. From the very first scene, it’s apparent that the film will focus on the theme of family, and almost every plot and side-plot explores what a family actually is, and what it means to belong. Unfortunately, some of the “emotional” scenes felt a little contrived; too much “we need drama, dammit!” for my taste. Plus, the filmmakers clearly know that their audience want Gamora and Star-Lord to get together, and insist on these long teasing moments where the two characters admit that there’s chemistry between them, but they don’t really know why they can’t acknowledge it. This isn’t a high-school rom-com, guys, and you’re two consenting adults who regularly trust each other with your lives and kick alien butt together!
Comparatively, while the action scenes are super fun, Marvel has a weirdly lackadaisical approach to portraying the effect of violence, which sometimes shifts Volume 2‘s tone in a confusing way. When villains murder dozens of people in one fell swoop, we are given a lingering shot of the dead, coupled with ominous music and a clear message that these guys are Bad News. On the other hand, when our heroes casually butcher a small squadron and then an entire ship’s crew in as gruesome a way as a PG-13 rating would allow, you’re treated to 80’s rock and a cavalier, “HA HA!” attitude to all the carnage. And yes, while this definitely enhances the slightly absurdist feel the film tries to cultivate, the nature of the violence is a little off-putting. In 300, Kill Bill, or Watchmen, I’d be totally fine with this, but in a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, it feels out of place.
That said, Volume 2 certainly looks and sounds impressive. The movie is often stunningly pretty (and yeah, Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana definitely help in that regard). The creatures, if not all terribly imaginative, are kinda cool, and include a set of aliens that looks like they walked out of the villain’s lair from the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger. The retro music that seems to have become a hallmark of any Guardians media product (check out our review of the Telltale game) is often cleverly embedded. The art directors painted the whole movie with a “Golden Age of Sci Fi” paintbrush, and I’d recommend staying for the credits scene, if not for Marvel’s mandatory bonus scenes, then at least for the way it evokes an old rock-and-roll album cover.
Ultimately, while flawed in parts, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is an enjoyable way to spend an evening, even if you haven’t watched the first Guardians movie. It’s exciting and funny, and if you roll with it, you can overlook its blemishes and just have a good ride.