The first Guardians of the Galaxy has steadily climbed in my affections on repeat viewings, to the point that it definitely ranks in my top three Marvel movies, mainly because of the poignant subplot involving Peter Quill’s mother. I suspect the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is unlikely to grow on me in the same way. There is enough goodwill from the first film to make it an enjoyable experience overall, but the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play here.
We’re reintroduced to Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt) and his motley gang of alien weirdos – Gamora (Zoe Salanda), Drax (Dave Bautista), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) – in the midst of an adventure involving a huge tentacled monster and a peculiar, snooty, vaguely fascist alien race. As ELO’s Mr Blue Sky plays over the opening credits, we’re back on familiar turf, with well chosen pop songs punctuating the action just as effectively as in the original.
Where the film is less effective is in a somewhat plodding and predictable narrative, which follows similar plot beats to the first film, but ends up being a tad overblown. For example, the use of Yondu’s arrow is dialled up to 11, but this makes it less clever and fun than in the original. There are still plenty of laughs, as old characters such Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) turn up again. An amusing if pointless Sylvester Stallone cameo liven proceedings, along with new characters including empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Ego (Kurt Russell), with the latter turning out to be… Well, I won’t say, even though it was spoiled by the trailer.
Director James Gunn outdoes the visuals of the first film with some truly spectacular planets, aliens and monsters, but whilst this is undeniably bigger, it isn’t really better. Certainly in the finale, visual effects fatigue begins to kick in, and five (count ‘em) post-credit sequences punctuating the credit roll feels a tad excessive. I’d have axed at least three of them.
Themes of family, including absent fathers, sibling rivalry, adoption and so forth, crop up too. But they are less subtle and emotionally satisfying than in the original film. Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lacks the light touch of its predecessor, and even though flashes of anarchic irreverence do break through, it is largely a case of treading water.