A smart, brilliantly scripted sequel that actually surpasses the original. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in story, character development and an unwillingness to take itself too seriously. I’m Mary Poppins, Y’all!
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the perfect sequel script. It’s not deep, it’s not nuanced, and it doesn’t force you to think too hard, but damn it’s a good movie. What follows is, of course, our spoiler heavy review of Guardians of The Galaxy Volume 2.
While Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 dragged a bit in its first act because the film had to introduce audience members to the heroes of the story, Volume 2 doesn’t suffer from this problem. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is an example of masterful scriptwriting. It does exactly what it needs to do in order to further the plot and develop its characters, and it doesn’t waste any time or space on useless minutiae. Films such as Interstellar or Lawrence of Arabia can take time making thoughtful scenes that are tangential to the plot yet give an extra layer of meaning to the film as a whole. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 doesn’t take, or waste, time doing that. Instead it gives you a big, dumb, action packed film that is the tightest script for a film I’ve seen in recent years.
What Guardians of the Galaxy, both the original and the sequel, does is something that I would have considered poor, lazy writing in a lesser film. Everything is telegraphed, the villain is quite obvious the second they’re introduced. The main plot points are expressed in as efficient a manner as possible, so that the film doesn’t drag. The film is never allowed to get too dark, too heavy, and humor is injected at the right moments. All in all this is the big dumb action film that the Transformers or Fast and the Furios franchises wished they were.
The film opens with a prologue similar to Volume 1: more backstory for Peter Quill. Here we see Kurt Russell, de-aged in a combination of makeup and digital effects that almost surpassed the uncanny valley. He is in the process of romancing Quill’s mother while showing her. Again this is a masterpiece of cinematography; enough time is spent on Chekhov’s Plant to let us know it will be a major plot point, but not too much time that we spend half the film trying to figure it out. Only enough time is spent so that we’ll remember it when it is re-introduced later on.
After this scene we are given what is probably my favorite moment of the film: the opening dance number. Similar in manner to the opening dance number of Volume 1, this is also an example of the heavy use of a diegetic soundtrack (sound that comes from elements within the film rather than an overlaid sound score). Here we see a comical scene where Quill and Rocket argue over the latter’s wasting of time setting up a sound system as they wait for the appearance of a many toothed and tentacled space monster. The scene is so well written, the ludicrousy of a character wasting time so that they’ll have something to listen to while they fight for their lives, and the almost nihilistic disdain Rocket has for his friends’ objections, that the film can be forgiven for taking audiences out of the movie for a few brief moments.
Once the space monster appears Baby Groot shows up, and he proceeds to dance to Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra. Unlike Quill’s dance in the first installment, this dance sequence is a bit more blatant, and I couldn’t help but be taken out of the film for a moment. But the setup was so perfect that it didn’t matter: I was enthralled as Baby Groot danced about the screen in focus while the rest of the Guardians fought for their lives in the background.
After this fight scene we are given the briefest of premises: the Guardians were hired by the Sovereign to protect space batteries, which happen to double as very dangerous bomb. Rocket proceeds to steal the Chekhov’s Batteries, which of course leads them into trouble. The Sovereign High Priestess, Ayesha, makes a brief remark about Peter Quill’s parentage while they discuss the Guardians’ payment: the return of villain Nebula to the Guardians so they can take her to the Nova Corps.
There’s a lot to unpack in this scene, not least of which is the important callback to Quill’s father. The previous film established that he is only half human, and his father is something “very ancient.” The audience needed to be reminded of this and the script does so in a brilliant manner. This offhand comment about Quill’s “unorthodox genetics” as Ayesha puts it, leads Quill to an existential crisis that will become the crux of the second act, as well as reminds the audience that Quill is only half human. In addition, the scene also introduces Nebula to the film and sets up her story arc with that of her sister Gamora. There is a lot of heavy lifting in this scene and it is done so with the efficiency of a master scriptwriter.
After this comes the obligatory battle sequence, since the audience is a bit cheated with the half-battle, half-dance scene previously. Once Rocket’s theft is uncovered, the Sovereign send a fleet of space fighters to attack the hapless Guardians. In one of the best comedic scenes in the film, Rocket remarks that he has killed one of the Sovereign after destroying a ship; Gamora corrects him by stating that they are remote controlled drones. Cut to an arcade scene (complete with requisite 8-bit music) of hundreds of Sovereign piloting in seats reminiscent of the original Star Wars X-Wing Arcade game. It was literally a scene at Dave and Buster’s with golden face paint. One of the many things this film does is not take itself seriously.
Of course, one of the most brilliant parts of this scene, and also one of the parts that could have made the film a flop had it be handled by less expert hands, is the ending. The entire fight sequence is completely pointless. The Guardians escape through a mine field only to be faced with the rest of the armada, at a far greater numbers than they could hope to survive. Then comes the literal deus ex machina as a mysterious figure riding a spaceship like a horse shoots folding lightning bolts from his hands and destroys the entire fleet with about as much effort as it takes to wipe your nose.
Again, this could have been one of the stupidest parts of the film but instead it’s one of the best. And I hate deus ex machinas with a passion. But the setup, and the comedic effect makes the sequence pay off.
Thus ends the first act, along with a hilarious sequence involving Drax being towed behind the ship attached to a cable while the ship crashes in a forest. Don’t ask me to explain it; just watch it.
Several key plot points develop at the beginning of the second act. We learn that Yondu, a C villain turned anti-hero in the first film has a backstory that gives him depth. He has been outcast by his fellow Ravagers for “dealing in kids” which, as Sylvester Stallone explains, is pretty much their only rule.
We also have reinforced to us Rocket’s general animosity toward his team mates. He is the stereotypical black sheep who causes trouble for attention. Quill even remarks “It’s almost as if you want people to hate you,” after an argument over Rocket’s irresponsible theft.
Then we meet Ego, Peter’s father and living planet from the Marvel Comics Universe. He’s still a planet, and also Peter’s dad. He had a penis, as Drax enquirers, and it works as Ego ilicidates.
Ego as a character is one of the worst kept secrets of the film, having been revealed last year at Comic Con. But even if you knew nothing about the comics or the film, Ego is clearly more than he appears. This is telegraphed to such a point that only the least interested if viewers would miss it. Gamora even states that “If he turns out to be evil, well just kill him.”
Ego invites Quill and his companions to his planet, and the crew decides to split the party. Never split the party.
But the reason why Drax, Gamora and Peter venture off with Ego while Rocket, Baby Groot and captive Nebula stay behind is simple. There’s not much story on the Ego side of act 2 and therefore we’ll be spending a great deal of time developing Rocket and Yandu’s characters. This was set up earlier and the payoff is textbook.
While Peter learns that Ego is his father, a Celestial and was searching for Peter to complete his purpose, (yes literally that’s the bulk of Ego’s Act 2 storyline) Rocket is captured by The Ravagers, who have been hired by the Sovereign to hunt the Guardians down.
Rocket makes a good show of fighting off The Ravagers (with hilarity) it is all for nothing. Yondu is no match even for Rocket, but Yondu’s softness for Peter finally comes to haunt him as a mutiny is led against him. We think that Rocket might escape for the briefest of seconds before Nebula (who has escaped like we knew she would) shoots Yondu’s fin which gives him control of his Overpoweres Arrow.
Nebula sets off to kill Gamora while Yandu and Rocket have necessary development dialogue. Yondu explains that he broke Ravager code by delivering Ego’s children to him because of the money he received. But when Yandu learned of Ego’s vague yet nefarious true intentions he decided to keep Peter. A paternal affection formed for Yondu toward Peter.
Yondu also explains to Rocket (whose development is not quite up to the death of introspection) that the two are the same. Rocket pushes people away because he can’t bear the thought of exoeriencing the rejection he sees as inevitable on any terms but his own.
Neat and tidy, Rocket’s arc is completed and Yondu’s has only one more chapter in it. They escape (in a sequence that just has to be seen, even though it was spoiled for us at Comic Con) and head off to rescue Peter from Ego.
Nebula catches up to Gamora on Ego’s planet. The two fight and develop. Nebula hates Gamora because during their torturous training at the hands of Thanos (remember him?) she always lost to Gamora. Each time she lost Thanks replaced a part of her with cybernetics. Painfully. But Nebula never wanted a rival, she wanted a sister. Gamora apologizes and states that she had only wanted to survive, but now understands that she needs a sister just as much as Nebula had.
The Second act closes with everyone’s arc completed escort for Peter’s Ego’s and Yondu’s. which is obvious from a storytelling perspective. Yondu was, as Peter stated at the end of the first film, the only family he had. At the heart of this film is a paternalistic story, about lost fathers and failure. Failure as a parent, as a son, and as a member of the tribe. And of course, all good failure stories must end in redemption.
With the third act our characters learn what the audience has known at least from the middle of the second act. Ego offers Peter what he’s always been searching for: a father and a purpose. With the realization that Peter is at least part Celestial, he is seduced by Ego’s offer of power and completeness.
But Ego is not benevolent; he needs Peter’s energy (being part Celestial) to provide him enough power to enact his master plan. His Chekhov’s Plants must be activated so that he can spread his essence across the universe and make it one with himself. Which of course will cause the inhabitants of every world Ego engulfs to be destroyed.
We also learn that Ego killed Peter’s mother by implanting the brain tumor in her. He did this because his love for her was so great that he knew he would have abandoned his plan if she had remained alive.
This is necessary and logical development for the character of Ego. The fact that he wants to make everything one with himself does not make him evil enough to warrant the battle that is to come. So the murder of Peter’s mother helps to cement Ego as evil both in the viewer’s mind and in Peter’s. It also leave a throughline, of a missing father figure that will need to be filled. After all, Peter had been in a stage of arrested development ever since his mother’s death. This helps to explain his childlike behavior and leaves his character open for growth.
When Peter hears that Ego killed his mom (and smashed his Walkman) he finally realizes that his father is not the dad he’s been searching for all his life. The fight begins with engulfs the rest of the third act.
Drax, Nebula, Gamora, Peter and Mantis (a character that is wasted but provides some good comic relief and helps to move the plot along) fight Ego while Yondu, Rocket and Baby Groot arrive to help. To complicate matters, the Sovereign Armada arrives.
A very busy (but easily followed) fight scene occurs. It’s a brilliant one, it becomes heavy st just the right time and has levity introduced when it becomes too dark. Eventually the Guardians find a way to kill a living planet. Their plan is set and everyone escapes except for Yondu and Peter who is locked in a battle of wills with his father. Just as Peter defeats Ego and the planet is about to be destroyed, Ego reminds Peter that is Ego does Peter will be “just like one of them”. With Ego Peter could be immortal. Alone he’s just another human. “What’s so wrong with that.” Peter asks, rejecting his father completely and accepting himself as a regular, broken human.
With Ego killed the planet begins to die. Any who are still on the surface will die. Yondu and Peter are the only two left. For plot reasons Yondu had a pair of rockets but only one space suit, which he gives to Peter. They fly toward Yondu’s rescue ship. Peter watches as Yondu sacrifices himself and gives Peter the spacesuit.
Yondu needed to die in this film. It gives finality to the plot and to his character. Peter realizes that Yondu was the father he never had. He was a flawed father but a father nonetheless, as Peter realizes that searching for a perfect father figure is a fruitless endeavor.
Yondu is redeemed in the eyes of his fellow Ravagers who hold a funeral for him. Peter realizes that The Guardians are his family. Not perfect, but his nonetheless.
Gamora and Nebula are reconciled. But she won’t stay with Gamora, instead making her own path. Like Yondu she’s changed, but she’s still too dark and viscous to be a Guardian. Besides, she’ll be needed for Infinity War.
With Volume 2 we see the quintessential sequel script. One that is executed brilliantly. No space is wasted, not precious seconds of screen time seem out of place or superfluous. The film does drag a bit in the second act, but this is because they need to get the necessary character development out of the way before the third act begins. And we can forgive this slight pacing problem. After all, we’re all only human.
I’m the end, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 holds a cherished place as one of the best sequels made, among such heavyweights as The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Aliens. Better than the original.