With so much noise in the movie marketplace this year, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, came and went with little fanfare. But the hype of other productions and the failure of the studio to come up with a more audience-grabbing publicity campaign caused many to skip over the sequel to 2014’s surprise success, Guardians of the Galaxy (it’s really been three years?). If you were one who missed it in the theater, it’s now available on multiple streaming services, Blu-ray, and DVD, and it’s so much fun, and so good, it’s going to prompt us to resurrect our discussion of that awesome rarity: sequels that rival the original.
Get ready for more laugh-out-loud humor among the Guardians than in the previous film. Now that the origin story is behind us, we get to know each character more after they’ve been working together and their relationships are well-established. Prepare for more quotable lines from Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, and the voices of Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, and Vin Diesel, this time as a tiny Baby Groot as we met him at the end of the first film. Returning characters who see fairly expanded screen time and are integral to the story more than before are Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Michael Rooker’s Yondu, and Guardians II director James Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn returning as the Ravager Kraglin.
As much as you’ll love the familiar players, the new characters and the storylines they bring to the table keep the film exciting to the very end. First you have two big names, and unlike superhero movies of the past, they aren’t just in the film to get audiences into the theater: Kurt Russell adds another compelling and multi-layered performance to his resume as Star-Lord’s father Ego, and Sylvester Stallone plays an important role as Stakar, a Ravager leader whose backstory intertwines with Yondu. Adding to her nuanced villain roles (along with her role in 2016’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) is Elizabeth Debicki (you may also recognize her voice in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Ayesha–you directs a fleet of pilots in spacecraft drones that are like nothing you’ve seen before. And finally, the Marvel Universe is introduced to Pom Klementieff’s Mantis. Some of the best scenes in the film, both dramatic and hysterically funny, come from conversations between Drax and Mantis. An unexpected reference to Mary Poppins (!?) is probably the best line in the film.
We know a Guardians film also means 1970s pop songs, and even more songs are integrated into the sequel’s story. Normally this could get annoying–inserting pop music in a film tends to be a crutch when the director doesn’t know what else to do with the story. But with Star-Lord’s tie to his late mother’s cassette mix tape, the music is not just background, but turned on and cranked up by characters inside the film, including Looking Glass’s “Brandy,” Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” The soundtrack is where the film isn’t quite as powerful as in the first film, but that doesn’t detract from the forward momentum of the action.
Guardians II also feels familiar–in a good way–with the pace of the story laid out like you’re reading a classic Marvel comic book. As with many good sequels, the stakes are greater and darker–Godfather and Godfather II comes to mind–and this sequel is also a solid standalone film that is a complete work, with familiar characters, that earns merit in its own right. Both Guardians and Guardians II are among the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, providing complete character arcs (many questions are finally answered for Star-Lord), tension (Gamora and Nebula finally get to work on sister issues), strange worlds (Ego’s home planet is nicely designed), and visual effects (Yondu has the best weapon of any universe).
A unique bend of superheroics, sci-fi, and fantasy (only Doctor Strange seems to fit in the same paradigm among the superhero genre), great Easter eggs, and a satisfying end that will leave audiences eagerly waiting for the sequel, track down Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, today, available on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, and here on Amazon Video, here on Blu-ray, here on 4K, and here on DVD, both at Amazon.