The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand since its big bang: 2008’s Iron Man. The dizzying rate of this expansion has led creatives to dip into less mainstream characters and stories for material as the most recognizable ones become used up. Did anyone, for example, ever think we would live to see an Ant Man movie? For someone like myself, who enjoys the superhero mythos, this frenetic phenomena is cause for mixed reaction. On the one hand, I have no problem with the many movies—so long as they are good movies. On the other hand, the flood of such flicks is without doubt hampering the creativity of an entire industry. Case in point: not one trailer that ran before my viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a non-franchise film.
But Guardians of the Galaxy is not exactly in Marvel Comic’s main stable of recognizable properties, which include the likes of Spider Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, and Captain America, among others. The series might be familiar to comic book geeks, but certainly not to average moviegoers. Perhaps, for all intents and purposes, this series might as well be considered “original” content.
When the first Guardians movie was released in 2014, it garnered a lot of praise from audiences and critics. I thought it was fine—“fun but forgettable” has been my description of Marvel films lately. The pressing question the filmmakers seemingly ask of each Marvel project is: Is it quippy? Is there just the right amount of jokes? Humor is a high priority. In the post-Nolan Dark Knight era of comic book films that try to be more serious, the Guardians movies—as with other Marvel films—are moving back to the slightly more tongue-and-cheek origins of the genre.
But, as always, it’s really about the story. Serious comic book movies are fine; unserious comic book movies are fine; anything in-between is fine. Ultimately, however, it’s about story and characters, and judging by that criteria the first Guardians of the Galaxy felt somewhat deficient. It was a stream of nice chuckle moments culminating in an immemorable battle involving some kind of all-important glowing Mcguffin. I enjoyed it, but thought it was overhyped. The lack of story made the humor feel labored, as if it might all be trying too hard. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 does a better job, with a stronger story, better humor, and some nice character stuff to keep you tethered through the sci-fi comic book zaniness.
Central to this second film is the enigma surrounding the origins of Peter Quill, also known as “Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt), a man conceived by a human woman from earth and a mysterious, heretofore unknown alien (played by Kurt Russell). Perhaps the slightly more personal stakes for the story’s hero make for an more compelling film overall. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has a nice subplot involving her antagonist sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Yondu, the alien space pirate played by Michael Rooker, is, surprisingly, dramatically captivating this time around.
The action of the film unfolds, as with the first, to Star-Lord’s mix tape of favorite classic rock oldies. The pop-culture nostalgia overdrive of the film’s soundtrack is synced a bit better for this sequel. From the clever opening sequence battle royale matched to ELO’s catchy Mr. Blue Sky, the movie doesn’t let your attention drift away. The mesmerizing visuals flesh out the story’s universe and the frenetic action and humor make the movie about as close to a big screen comic book as you can find on a screen. Overall, it’s a nice slice of entertainment that makes you think that this b-side Marvel universe might be worth returning to now and again.