Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Review: Age of Ego
Many music geeks have been there: making someone a compilation tape/CD/playlist.... an awesome mix if you will. You churn through your music library and find the very best songs to impress its recipient. New bands you know they’ll love, obscure classics and criminally overlooked album tracks all loved upon their listening. So much so that they ask you to make another one.... only little or nothing has changed in your music library so you start making riskier choices you wouldn’t take last time, repeating bands from the first mix because they were liked and all too often the result will be enjoyed but won’t quite compare to the original. That’s what I feel Guardians of the Galaxy has done with its Volume 2. It’s tried to compensate losing its fresh originality by bigger, more expansive and riskier story while doubling down hard on some perceived positives of the first film. It is a lesser sequel but only just thanks to surprising amount of heart underneath the rapid fire gag cannons.
While fleeing a job gone wrong, the Guardians of the Galaxy encounter Peter Quill/Starlord’s (Chris Pratt – Jurassic World) father who is none other than Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell – The Hateful Eight). It’s a happy family reunion until the fate of the Galaxy becomes a factor.
On the surface, much like the first Guardians was a “space Avengers” film, Volume 2 feels most comparable to Age of Ultron. The action and stakes are bigger, it rushes straight in, the core team is expanded and as such, it struggles to find meaningful character arcs for all involved. The biggest casualty is the big lovable Drax. You’ve seen the trailers of his big hilarious laugh.... that’s pretty much all he does in the film and as great as it is at first, it really gets overused. Drax’s destruction comes partly due to being paired with newcomer Mantis. She’s easily the film’s worst character being used for little more than a plot explainer with some awkward laughs thrown in. Thankfully, these two take one for the team as all other key characters have excellent emotional arcs around the theme of family relationships. At the centre is Quill bonding with his long last father and exploring his back story but alongside that, James Gunn masterfully builds in the idea of Michael Rooker’s (The Belko Experiment) Yondu as Quill’s surrogate father through his upbringing. This turns out be the film’s best feature as it expands on Yondu’s side of Quill’s childhood to develop into a redemption arc that Rooker absolutely nails to bring out the man within the blue crooked teeth monster. More than anything else, this recaptures that all conquering surprise factor of the first film. Then we have a captured Nebula (Karen Gillian – Doctor Who) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana – Star Trek) reconnecting over their hatred of Thanos as a father figure. Not only does this enhance Thanos as an evil figure without having him on screen but successfully transitions Nebula into a Loki-like, straddling the good/bad line character without feeling overly forced. It all helps the many sections of the film to feel connected as they all help build towards the end play out of Quill & Ego’s relationship. Hell, even Mantis & Drax manage to chip in a little as she talks of being an orphan while he speaks as father having lost is child which creates some endearment towards Ego feeling the same over Quill.
While it’s still in top 5 strengths, the film’s humour is also its greatest weakness. Like that one kid in class (yep... that was me), it just tries too hard to impress, throwing laugh after laugh at us with any time to pause for applause and savor the moment because they’re already setting up the next punchline. If we actually laughed every time, this film wanted us to it would cause a seizure. This is not a Will Ferrell/Kevin Heart affair so please give us quality rather than quantity of gags.... and easy on the nob gags, you’re better than that. While some jokes are regrettable misfires, thankfully this is still the Guardians you fell in love with 3 years ago and many do find their mark. Rocket is the main laughter man/raccoon this time around, getting the best laughs, especially concerning a certain ill-named captor. The film also retains its more oddball/unorthodox charms right from the start as Baby Groot parodies Quill’s infamous credits sequence dance through while the opening monster fight takes place in the background.
The story doesn’t quite come together as well as it should though. For instance, Nebula repeatedly talks about going off to kill Thanos, which is supposed to be top of Drax’s bucket list too (written on an actual bucket, I imagine) yet he's never featured in the conversation. The biggest problem is it just feels far too much like a middle movie. In a number of places it’s far too concerned with sowing seeds for the future rather than making this harvest more bountiful. In some ways, this is less a sequel and more a prequel of a theequel. Still, if that does all payoff to make overall trilogy a better viewing experience, I will relinquish command to Captain Hindsight. The action is pretty spectacular too. I wasn’t crazy about the Sovereign’s video game arcade style remote controlled ships far making their presence in a conflict feel so inconsequential but pretty much the whole film is a visual feast and the action sequences embody that the best. From the opening monster fight to fighting in the elaborate planetary interiors the film feels like a spectacle.
As mentioned earlier, the cast MVP award goes to Rooker’s Yondu for just how much he makes us care about his child kidnapping thieving mercenary. Not far behind him is a Kurt Russell on great form. He channels just enough of Chris Pratt’s mannerisms to make the parental connection believable while still being a unique on screen entity as an all powerful laid back hippy. All the returning Guardians 5-some are as good as before, although (at the risk of being ravaged in the comments section), I wasn’t overwhelmed by Baby Groot. Yes, he was Gizmo -evel adorable and did add something different to the group but I couldn’t help but wish Groot senior was there instead because nothing seemed to fill his void. There are a lot of ace cameos but none better than Sylvester Stalone as a familiar name to comics fans. It’s already been reported there are more plans for him in future MCU films and that looks like being a knockout success. Of course, there are post credit scenes, many in fact, spaced throughout so don’t pull out your phone until they finish. More than one has some rather awesome teases of things to come in the already confirmed Guardians Volume 3.
Oddly, I wasn’t feeling this good about Guardians Vol 2 immediately after seeing it but in the 24 hours between viewing and writing, its hidden depth and emotion has really crept on me. This is certainly a film that will satisfy, if not quite exceed the expectations of first film fans, but those that found the origonal too superficial will find themselves welcomed to the Guardian’s of the freakin’ Galaxy by everything laying underneath its shiny surface. This film may have a big Ego but just as big a heart.... and yes, of course the soundtrack rules.