Three categories which have defined summer movies in recent years have been: big-budget blockbusters, sequels, and franchise films. The unofficial first film of the 2017 summer movie season simultaneously represents all three. The comic book film Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe of interconnected films, and a sequel to 2014’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy.
Featuring the same great cast as Guardians of the Galaxy, with writer/director James Gunn returning, and a more ambitious story focused on stronger character development, Volume 2 has the potential to be a bigger film than what fans now refer to as Volume 1. The sequel may be bigger in scope than its predecessor—and improves on a few of the weakness from the original film. However, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume2’s weaker narrative, less thrilling action, and a less memorable soundtrack prevent it from surpassing the quality of Volume 1.
While working for the alien race known as the Sovereign, Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Sladana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and the baby tree alien Groot (Vin Diesel), become separated, just as a new danger appears. At the same time, Starlord discovers the identity of his father, while Gamora reunites with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Volume 2 focuses heavily on developing its main characters; Volume 1 merely introduced them, established their personalities, and occasionally hinted at their backstories. This sequel explores the ramifications of character details such as Peter’s alien heritage, and the relationship between Gamora, Nebula, and their father Thanos (the powerful Avengers villain and announced main antagonist for Avengers 3). Also, Peter’s alien friend Yondu (Michal Rooker) plays a more significant role in this film than he did in Volume 1.
Volume 2’s greatest strength is how Gunn writes new and interesting dilemmas for his characters to face, and how each character grows in their respective journeys while remaining true to their personalities established in Volume 1. Also, Volume 2 adds even more comedic moments and witty one-liners than were present in Volume 1. In particular, the baby version of the monstrous Groot steals nearly every scene he’s in. The humor keeps most of the dramatic scenes from being too heavy-handed and adds to the film’s entertainment value.
While Volume 1 was a fairly basic but streamlined space adventure, Volume 2 is more of a character study with more complex emotional stakes, and a less compelling narrative. The first film had a clearly threatening—if generic and uninteresting—villain in Ronan the Accuser. In contrast, the sequel has multiple (and fairly interesting) antagonists; but no clear threat until the third act.
In this film, the Guardians spend more screen-time conversing with each other and developing their characters than they do actually fighting evil or guarding the galaxy. As a consequence, the story is less streamlined, and impressive action scenes are more sporadic. This relative dearth in story and action would be a bigger flaw if the character drama wasn’t so compelling. The excellent character drama mostly makes up for the minimal narrative drama. Also, the 70’s soundtrack—one the highlights of the original’s—features songs which are better suited to the narrative/themes but less fun or interesting when separated from the film than the nothing-but-hits soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.
If you’re a comic book fan and you’re hoping to be blown away like you was with the first film, Volume 2 likely won’t meet your expectations. To be fair, the first Guardians film is a high bar to reach, and sequels rarely surpass their predecessors in quality. This sequel is a different kind of film; James Gunn us less concerned here with popcorn fun or compelling storytelling, and more focused on exploring the emotional journeys of its great characters.