James Gunn
Direction & Written By

Movie Review
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2:The Sequel That Could Have Been

Nearly three years after the original Guardians of the Galaxy’s (GOTG) groundbreaking success, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) favourite group of reformed rogues returns for another jam-packed space adventure. Based on the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' comics by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Vol. 2 is set three months after the events of the first film.

Following an opening sequence that bursts with GOTG’s signature sci-fi humour, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) appear to be enjoying their newfound status as Guardians of the Galaxy – new, improved, and available for hire. In exchange for retrieving Anulax Batteries from an Abilisk, the Sovereign race’s High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) promises to return Gamora’s estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Rocket – in typical ex-outlaw fashion – manages to offend the Sovereign, and Ayesha is compelled to hire Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and his exiled Ravager crew to capture the quirky quintet.

While it is tempting to claim that writer/director James Gunn has surpassed the original GOTG film, the truth is far from it. Vol. 2 conveys the distinct impression of a Star-Lord standalone. The screenplay’s overriding theme hones in on Peter Quill’s lineage, and Gunn appears to have sidelined the rest of the cast. Intriguing characters such as Gamora and Rocket are only thrown in to help Quill connect the dots and hasten a generally lagging pace, while Quill’s quest paints him as a mere spectator rather than participant. Considering that the Guardians are an ensemble and not a sole-protagonist construction, this emphasis ends up damaging the film’s overall potential.

When Peter Quill discovers that Ego (Kurt Russell) is his father, the motley crew splits up: Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax follow Ego to his planet, while Rocket and Baby Groot are left to watch Nebula. During this separation, it is the subplots that render a more gripping experience. The conflict between Nebula and Gamora is effectively intense, while Yondu, Groot and Rocket outdo the rest with their antics. Interestingly, Gillan’s performance overshadows Saldana, and Bradley Cooper’s snarky Rocket – while voiced to perfection – tosses some ill-timed punchlines that fall flat. Baby Groot is downright adorable, and Sean Gunn’s comedic timing through Kraglin is on point. Michael Rooker delivers the most memorable performance of all, and it is a delight to watch the gnarly space-pilot evolve onscreen.

It is evident that Chris Pratt was not born to act, which is a pity considering the potential for emotional depth in this film. Bautista, too, delivers a lackluster performance. Then again, Drax the Destroyer is meant to be gruff and steely-eyed. Pratt, on the other hand, cannot be excused for having portrayed a cheery, likable misfit as lifeless and bland.

Vol. 2 also introduces new characters, such as that of Pom Klementieff’s Mantis. Gunn’s efforts to project Mantis as “quirky” and “adorable” come off as forced and overdone, though perhaps one shouldn’t raise too many objections here – the MCU has, after all, finally introduced an Asian female character who, although secondary and rather stereotyped, isn’t just another leather catsuit. It will be interesting to see how Gunn and the MCU choose to develop her story.

Sylvester Stallone plays the Ravager Stakar Ogord and, while the cameo is brief, viewers will no doubt be excited by the prospect of seeing more of this legendary Captain. Just as Lee Pace’s phenomenal talent felt wasted in the original, Kurt Russell is done a similar injustice here. Ego’s character feels cheapened and lacking, though it must be said that Russell nailed every cliché line that was handed to him. In fact, apart from Yondu, this tamely written character may just be the most multi-dimensional individual in the film – and that’s saying something.

Unfortunately, while Vol. 2 does work towards a multi-layered script, it is badly stitched together, resulting in flailing seams and backstories that could have otherwise provided a more tightly produced result. Keeping in line with modern-day Hollywood, the film’s prime appeal rests in its visuals rather than its narrative, which is an injustice to the vivid characters of the prequel.

Following a solid first act, the film quickly falls into disjointed, confusing territory. Acts two and three are a strange combination of rushed and dragging, and Gunn’s screenplay just isn’t as clever as it tries to be, which is why a sizeable chunk of its humour invokes eye-rolls rather than snickers. It is merely “acceptable” rather than “remarkable”, and this is where its rewatch value suffers.

The GOTG franchise’s strongest features are its soundtrack and visual effects, and music supervisor Tyler Bates serves an effective follow-up to the original “Awesome Mix Vol. 1”, but it is just that – a B-side. Visual and special effects wizards Dan Sudick and Shaun Friedberg, on the other hand, have built a spectacular trip to the MCU’s cosmic realms.

Cinematographer Henry Braham expertly fades in and out through Xandarian, Kree, Sovereign and Ravager worlds, blending high and low-angle shots to convey the colossal significance of the Marvel cosmoverse as well as the Guardians’ mission. Costume design (Judianna Makovsky) and special makeup effects (Erika Akin, Legacy Effects) are, as before, exceptional. Editing (Fred Raskin, Craig Wood) is smooth overall, and production design (Scott Chambliss) is fantastic, lending Vol. 2’s rambling plotlines some strength.


In spite of its narrative hiccups and the CBFC’s incessant cuts, however, GOTG Vol. 2 is a sensory delight. The soundtrack is evocative, and CGI is striking. Combat sequences (Casey O’Neill, James Young) are masterful in their fusing of serious damage with dark humour, and Pratt, Saldana, Bautista and Gillan are in incredible shape, bringing fluidity to the action.

Most importantly, it is the camaraderie – the “family” motif – that grants this otherwise wobbly film some steady footing. James Gunn successfully maintains the overall 'Guardians of the Galaxy' tone throughout, and it is this combination of hilarity and heartwarming, gritty and gaudy, that will yield an enjoyable first-time watch.

   Tina Mohandas

Tina Mohandas is a songwriter, musician, tattoo artist, vintage motorcycle collector, and animal rights activist. Currently writing her debut science fantasy novel, she is also the co-founder of the non-profit Bikerhood India initiative, and hopes one day to free every caged animal in the world.

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