The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been built on risk. When it began they didn’t have the rights to any of their most profitable and well-known characters. But they worked on making these lesser-known characters as interesting as possible, all while building up to the ambition Avengers. And they’ve struck gold every time. As they’ve grown their cast of characters there have been more and more gambles, introducing the world to some of Marvel’s deepest cuts. But no film was a bigger gamble than 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A crazy space opera featuring a group of characters who were obscure to even comic books fans, made by a director primarily known for indie horror movies, and containing one of the oddest and least likely group of actors that franchise had had up until that point? Yeah, it felt like Marvel was ready for its first failure. And yet, magic occurred, and Guardians of the Galaxy ended up becoming one of the MCU’s biggest successes, both critically and commercially, and became one of the most beloved entries of the franchise. Guardians was a complete shock, and were almost immediately curious about what the future would hold for this new series. And now that question has been answered in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, one of the most anticipated films of the summer. Guardians of the Galaxy was a very tough act to follow, and now it’s time to figure out if Vol. 2 has what it takes to do so.
The film opens up with a brief scene showing Peter Quill’s mysterious father wooing his mother Meredith in 1980, before planting a strange plant into the soil in rural Missouri. After that we’re thrown directly into the hectic world of the Guardians of the Galaxy, not too long after the events of the first film. They’ve been hired to kill some horrible alien that’s trying to feast on some powerful energy source for a race of beings called the Sovereign in exchange for getting custody of Gamora’s fugitive sister Nebula. The Guardians defeat the creature, but Rocket decides to help himself to some batteries made from the energy source, earning the ire of the Sovereign, who try to attack the Guardians. Which they do rather well. The Sovereign manage to shoot the Guardian’s ship down, while also being dealt a massive loss from some mysterious third party. The Guardians crash land on a planet, trying to figure out what’s going on, when they’re suddenly approached by the ship that attacked the Sovereign fleet. And it’s revealed that the man inside is named Ego, and he claims to be Peter’s father. He also has a partner named Mantis, who seems very awkward. Ego tries to convince Peter that he’s actually his father, and offers to bring Peter and the Guardians to his own personal planet where he’s explain everything. Peter isn’t sure what to think, but Gamora convinces him that they should give it a shot. So Peter, Gamora, and Drax head to Ego’s planet with Ego and Mantis, while Rocket stays behind to guard the wreckage of their ship and Neblua, along with Groot. And to make matters worse we see that Ayesha, queen of the Sovereign has hired Yondu and the Ravagers, Peter’s adoptive family, to track down the Guardians and bring them to justice.
Yondu and his troops land on the planet, and try to assault Rocket, mostly being stopped by his ingenuity. But in the end Rocket is captured, along with Groot and Nebula. However, we then learn that there’s some mutinous feelings among the Ravagers, which is stoked by Nebula, leading to Yondu getting overthrown, and placed in a cell along with Rocket while Nebula goes her separate way. Meanwhile, on Ego’s planet, things are getting intense. Turns out that Ego is a Celestial, a nigh omnipotent being who has been in the universe since almost the beginning of time. The whole planet is actually Ego, and he’s just a manifestation of his larger form. Which means that Peter is also half-Celestial. Peter kind of reject this at first, but Ego end up proving to him that he has some magical powers, when he’s on the planet, and thus proves that Ego is actually his father. So Peter’s found his family! But something doesn’t seem quite right. Gamora and Drax have been talking with Mantis, and get the feeling that there’s something that she isn’t quite telling them. And when we see Rocket and Yondu talking, we learn that Ego isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. When Yondu learns that Peter has met Ego he insists that he and Rocket break out. They attack the Ravagers, taking out most of them, and steal a ship along with Yondu’s first mate Kraglin. They then blast off to Ego’s planet, hoping to save Peter. And why are they needing to stop Ego? Well, because Ego has become convinced that he’s the only intelligent form of life in the galaxy that should matter. He’s been travelling the galaxy, impregnating women and planting those mysterious plants on planets, and is now ready to use those plants to take over every planet with life on it in the galaxy. He’s been leaving children all around the galaxy, trying to find some progeny that has his abilities. Like Peter. So, with a second Celestial Ego is ready to activate his plan, and take over the galaxy. Unfortunately, he then mentions that he’s the one who gave Peter’s mother cancer so that he wouldn’t be tempted to come back to her. And that move convinces Peter that Ego isn’t the father he needed in his life, and he attacks him. Which is right when everyone else reaches that same conclusion. Nebula lands on the planet, and ends up making up with Gamora, at the same time that Rocket and Yondu show up. And now that the whole gang is together they have to find a way to kill Ego. Which can only be done by destroying Ego’s brain, in the core of the planet. So the Guardians travel down into Ego’s core to kill him. And after a series of battles they end up managing to plant a bomb on Ego’s brain, and then escape. Yondu sacrifices himself to get Peter out of the planet, Ego is destroyed, the galaxy is safe, and the Guardians have made a new member in Mantis.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’ll probably take a couple more viewings to decide if I like this film more than the original Guardians, but it’s damn near close. The first Guardians was an instant classic, and it was always going to be difficult to make a film that recaptured the feeling of the original while moving things further. And this film did that. It’s still swimming in the delightful aesthetic of the original film, full of the same humor, vibrancy, and bravado, but it also advances the mythos and the characters. We’re introduced to a lot of new ideas in this film, such as the Celestials, the Sovereign, Adam Warlock, and the original Guardians of the Galaxy team, and yet does it all in a way that comes off as understandable and palatable. But at its core the heart of this film still comes from its performances. Everyone in this movie is swinging for the fences, and they completely nail it. The MVP of the film has to be Michael Rooker as Yondu, who went from a likable scoundrel in the first film to one of the more tragic characters in the whole MCU. Likewise, Chris Pratt put in a hell of a great performance, switching on a dime from the joy of having found his father to fury when he learns what Ego did to his mother. Kurt Russel is always great, and he really leans into a fun kind of hippie aesthetic with this film that becomes instantly menacing when he needs to be. We also got some truly terrific stuff from Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan, putting the sisterhood between Gamora and Neblua, and I’m very excited to see where their relationship goes from here. The voice work in the film is also top notch, having Bradley Cooper put a lot more emotion in Rocket than the previous film. Vin Diesel and Dave Bautista don’t have as much emotional weight in their performances as Groot and Drax, but they still remain two consistently delightful characters that brighten every scene they’re in.
When the MCU began it was delightful to see them making consistently good superhero movies. But after the Avengers was released, things started to change and the films started to do something more interesting, taking the superhero aesthetic and applying it to new and different genres, seeing how that played out. But we seem to be in a third era of the series, where the people behind the films are using the medium of superhero movies to look at some really universal and important aspects of life. This is a big, loud, enjoyable sci-fi flick that’s a blast to watch. But simmering beneath that technicolor surface is some real depth. There’s of course the examination of family that runs as a through-line throughout the entire film. We get a really fun metaphor for adoptive parents vs biological parents, and the fact that the person who raised you is your real parents. But there’s something even more interesting going on beneath that that really moved me in this film. At its core this is a movie about people finding and grappling with their purpose in life. Egos entire plan revolves around what he thinks is his purpose in life, and that fulfilling that purpose is the most important thing in the galaxy. But it’s not just him. Peter’s whole purpose in life was finding his father, and thus a family, but by the end realizes that he’s always had a father in Yondu, and a family in the Ravagers and the Guardians. Mantis struggles with the realization that she’s been taught her whole purpose in life is to be a sentient sleeping pill for Ego, and is delighted when she sees something new to do with her life as a Guardian. Nebula was convinced that her purpose was getting revenge on Gamora, because Gamora focused on her purpose in life, becoming the best fighter possible, rather than being a sister to Nebula. Rocket realizes that he’s been pushing everyone away from him so that they won’t hurt him, but seeing Yondu deal with the same issues, and defeating them, he realizes that he needs to be a better person. Or raccoon. Even Drax deals with his purpose in life, because the first film focused on him finding purpose in getting revenge for his family, but by this film he’s learned that there’s more purpose in forming a new family with his friends. Finding your purpose in life, something to give the years on this planet meaning, is one of the most frightening and important things you’ll do as a person. And this film shows that that feeling of doubt and uncertainty is completely universal. So if you’re out there, struggling with a purpose, know that everyone else is to. Be they person, Living Planet, or talking raccoon. And there’s something beautiful in that sentiment.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was written and directed by James Gunn and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2017.