Unlike anything in the series thus far (and all the better for it), this candy-colored cartoon is one of the more terrific projects offered up by the behemoth that is Marvel Studios; a complete contradiction of everything that has come before it. Whereas the majority of these movies have suffered in great lengths under the demand of setup upon setup upon setup (see AGE OF ULTRON, a terrific example of how a good filmmaker can fight this battle and come out winning), James Gunn has managed to weave tremendous character development and a cohesive story together to make a summer blockbuster that feels more like a stand-alone episode of STAR TREK than the next piece in the tiresome, overwhelming Marvel assembly line.
What is most surprising about it is that nearly everything in it works, and when it doesn’t, it’s usually because it’s too busy taking care of its characters. Comics have always been about characters, and this should come as no surprise given the long stretches in which writers are forced to write characters out, twisting them, bending them, and sometimes even breaking them in the process. What Gunn has realized is this very fact, and I can’t help but feel like this is the reason he has put such an emphasis on his characters this time around. This is a true tribute to traditional comic-books, certainly the most comic-book-y movie Marvel has made, and at fifteen movies in, it’s about damn time.
The story this time around is much better and more engaging than in the first, this time dropping everything that made its predecessor boring and by-the-books and instead allowing its characters to drive the story home. Peter Quill, the unsung hero of the franchise who is also played by one of Marvel’s most popular gets in the realm of actors, takes a sideseat in this entry as Gunn’s script maneuvers to make room for a multitude of supporting players who eventually morph into the picture’s esteemed ensemble.
Gunn rips the rug out from under us as the team is split up (and I’m being very cautious about spoilers here), causing the film’s narrative to focus not on Quill with the funny quips from Rocket and Groot on the side, but rather covering everyone to a degree which is always higher than the degree to which he used in the first. There are many movies inside GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, one about Yondu, one about Nebula and Gamora, one about Rocket and Baby Groot, and somehow, they all come together in a two-hour superhero romp that rarely ever misses a beat, and never feels *too* overstuffed.
Of course, the primary story here is about Peter Quill (after all, he is the main character), and here is where the film gets its plot. Kurt Russell plays Peter’s father, the mythical figure who has been absent from Quill’s life for thirty-odd years. Russell, an American icon and one of the finest screen presences of our time, boasts a rugged charm as he leads Peter around his homeland, informing Peter of his potential and changing the game for people who aren’t familiar with the character in the comics. As I think about it, it’s hard to say much about Kurt Russell’s character Ego, but if you don’t know who he is in the comics and you don’t know the second half of his name, you will be very surprised and I think the final act of this film will be a blast for you.
This is also what makes this film so much different from the rest of the pack, which is that even while the sideplots are dealing with certain characters’ relationships and backstories (Gamora and Nebula have a very strong arc and, believe it or not, Yondu is maybe the best and most prominent character in the entire film), the paramount plot and even the massive climactic action sequences don’t just exist for popcorn entertainment purposes, but rather are all driven by and exist for the characters, but most importantly, “family.” While the Avengers are a team of unlikely partners who gather together to protect the Earth, the Guardians are so fascinating because they are a family protecting the galaxy.
Story and character aside, this is a stunning movie for the senses. Complete with a spectacularly melodious soundtrack that gives the original a run for its money as well as cinematography that looks like an actual movie made by actual people, aesthetically, this is maybe the best Marvel movie to date. Dave Bautista’s Drax, while being the least interesting Guardian in terms of storytelling, ends up being the funniest character, getting even more laughs than in the first. And as I mentioned earlier, it’s not all great. Some jokes fall flat, some lines of dialogue are unnecessarily expository, and sometimes the script does feel a bit to-the-brim in terms of content. But it’s fascinating to see just how Gunn manages to not overstuff and give each character enough room to breathe and develop.
Look, maybe I may be thinking a little too much about this one, and maybe after a few more viewings I won’t like it or much, but as it stands, I’m crazy about it. I loved it. As someone who totally didn’t buy into the CIVIL WAR hype and walked out saying, “Man, that just wasn’t very good,” let me be the first to tell you that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is quite marvelous, and it’s truly one of the best Marvel movies.