Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Stuck on rewind in space

Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 1) ended with a dancing baby Groot. Naturally, as if voted unanimously in a boardroom at Marvel and Disney, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens with an extended sequence of a grooving baby Groot. The cute sentient tree, voiced by the self-aware tank top, Vin Diesel, becomes symbolic of sequels maximising on popular elements of their predecessor. Groot is adorable, but my smile slowly faded the longer it went on, and ended with a sigh. This was the first of many highs that bottom out in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

In Vol. 2, the Guardians; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and baby Groot; must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of their leader, Star-Lord/Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) parentage. Another comic book movie with dad issues, surely after 15 Marvel movies they’ve thought to start a support group?

Sequel bloat hits by overvaluing what made the first film spark. Vol. 1 was like an impromptu celebration in 2014 compared to the indistinguishable Earth-bound stories of Marvel movies at the time. Vol. 2 has the revelry of the first, but it feels regimented, like a party planner hired to recapture the magic of a spontaneous night out. Even the soundtrack, which perfectly accompanied the first film, is a jangly shamble of adult orientated rock this time around.

But, within this dilated sequel is a big, squishy heart. Sifting through the bombast and getting to the soul of Vol. 2 takes time, but writer and director, James Gunn, ensures these characters give a damn about their family values. The plot, when it moves, eventually (somewhere around the halfway point), provides the niggling answers to what Quill has always wanted: a father. Kurt Russell, the aspirational kick-ass father figure of cinema plays Ego, a living planet that has taken human form, travelling the universe looking for the meaning of its existence. So often, nature is given maternal assignment, so the idea of a masculine planet has such a different thrust to it that Russell typifies, especially when he reveals his grand plan. It’s apt for Marvel, who have yet to release a female led superhero film, to give a gender-less living planet a penis: cue dancing baby Groot.

The divide for Quill is between what he wants, and what he has had in front of him the whole time. It’s a realisation that extends to the whole team, and rests on the nose so hard that when Cat Stevens’s ‘Father and Son’ plays it’s enough to trigger nosebleeds. It’s overbearing in the same way no scene in The Fast and the Furious franchise can end without ‘family’ mentioned six times, but every character gets their moment to emphasise the importance of the makeshift clan they’ve made as members of the Guardians. There’s a sincerity to it that works in contrast to when things go bad and the galaxy needs saving. The daddy issues pile up: abusive, absent and estranged – the problems sound like the track listings of a Pantera album – but it’s cohesive enough to bond the team in their alienation.

The cast still jell but get paired off as the plot gets distracted out of necessity to stave off the film’s major reveal, which once broached, forces Gunn to make something happen and it still manages to fell stretched for time. The true star is still the wonder of deep space and its tie-dye aesthetic. The introduction of new races, such as the genetically perfect, gold-skinned Sovereign People (led by a delightfully arrogant, Elizabeth Debicki) make the universe feel bigger and varied. There’s also a little relief from Marvel’s habit of stopping down to set up the next decade of planned films, Vol. 2 is relatively self-contained with its story.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 joins the ranks of Marvel mediocrity that’s become endemic to their approach to executing these films. Gunn once had the Guardians dancing to their own tune but now they’re just in the Marvel conga line.

Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie