During Dick Tracy’s “More” sequence, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney sings: “But there’s nothing better than more, more, more/Nothing’s better than more.” If ever a lyric perfectly encapsulated the blockbuster film-making ethos that was it. And so we find ourselves watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel’s impressive sequel to their gang of space rogues and damaged souls banding together as adoptive family epic.
The things you liked about the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie? Well, they’re all here, and there’s just more of them. It helps that Marvel didn’t change creative teams between entries, and James Gunn’s insouciant tone and pop culture savvy finds a perfect foil in Kurt Russell’s presence. Lee Pace was a bit wasted in the first film, but Russell was a post-modern action hero before that entire style of acting came into vogue. His Ego is the first truly memorable and pleasing villain in the Marvel super-franchise since Tom Hiddleston’s scheming Loki.
Then there’s Groot, the lovable sentient tree creature here in baby form. The film opens with him dancing around as a spectacular battle scene rages behind him. It’s a full-on charming assault, and if you get groove to these opening minutes then you’ll find yourself quickly taken in by the film’s wavelength. I loved it, and was only too happy to watch Groot basically work as an unintentional agent of chaos. A scene where he’s playing fetch for Yondu and Rocket is a loony bit of comedy.
Notice that I have mostly mentioned things that are entertaining, mocking, and free from a self-serious tone? That’s because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wants to provide maximum amount of escapism per minute of running time. Thank god, because the deluge of overly grim superhero films has made heroism feel like a chore. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 never wants you to forget that these can fun, even when things turn serious.
Surprisingly, the film handles these more serious moments with some aplomb, especially in the praise of step-fathers or found parents/family connections. Nebula and Gamora’s strained sisterly bonds are further explored, and Nebula becomes a sympathetic figure once you realize just how deep the sources and scars of her trauma go. Yondu gets the redemption arc, and his final scenes are a mixture of laughs, tears, and badass action. Vol. 2 frequently achieves the goals it’s striving towards with the strains minimal or hard to see.
There is a strange regression with Drax that shuffles him back into a one-dimensional joke machine for a large portion of the first half of the movie, then the growth he experienced across the first comes back and he’s richer for it. His strange, near paternal relationship with Mantis is refreshing for the emotional spine it strengthens throughout the film. It’s these moments of connection and not the frenzied sock ‘em scenes that linger in the memory. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is more of the first film’s strengths (and a few of its weaknesses), but like the song says, “nothing’s better than more.” The sophomore slump has successfully been avoided, and I’m cautiously optimistic that they can create a successful third outing. Maybe we’ll even get Angela!