Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes the cardinal sin of sequels: It fails to expand upon its premise or take its characters anywhere unexpected. If you liked 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll probably like this one, since it is, with the exception of its plot and the freedom afforded by not having to introduce a main cast, essentially the same film.
For better and for worse, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is unsurprising. And yet, to my great indignation, it still managed to move me to tears.
The movie opens in a familiar way, with a comedic musical sequence featuring action and dance, bigger, badder and with more characters than when Star-Lord waltzed his way through an ancient ruin to the notes of “Come and Get Your Love.”
“Remember color?” Vol. 2 seems to be asking. “Remember fun?”
Well, yes, we do. In the intervening years between Guardians of the Galaxy and Vol. 2 we’ve gotten Ant-Man, a second comedy-first Marvel movie franchise. We’ve gotten the psychedelic wonder of Doctor Strange. We’re in a fan culture that is salivating over Thor: Ragnarok, which debuted its first brightly colored, fun trailer to the screaming thunder of Led Zeppelin.
Guardians of the Galaxy danced to its own tune when it debuted, to great effect, and it set an example that Marvel has, wisely, followed up on extensively since. But the superhero setting isn’t as monotone now as it was in 2014, and even the realm of space epic isn’t quite so lonely: In the intervening years Star Wars has sprung back to theaters with glorious fanfare.
In 2017, the Guardians don’t stand out from the crowd nearly as much — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 should have been an opportunity to innovate and expand on concept, not just character roster. Instead, “Volume 2” is an apt name, in the sense that it is simply a continuation of the first part. Which is... fine. It’s fine.
The film lays out its exposition clumsily but as quickly and sparingly as it can, vaguely catching the audience up to speed on what happened the first time. I would not recommend bringing a friend who hasn’t seen the first film. Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) still a li’l shithead. The Sovereign want to kill the Guardians. The Ravagers want to capture the Guardians because the Sovereign are paying them. The Guardians want to turn Nebula (Karen Gillan) in for the bounty. Nebula wants to kill Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
Into all of this steps Ego (Kurt Russell), a mysterious, mysteriously powerful alien who claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost father.
Vol. 2 brings back everybody’s favorite characters from the first film, but in doing so makes a critical mistake: It’s a movie full of Urkels. With just the wacky or rebellious or broken characters of the first movie involved, there’s no examples of stability for them to bounce off of. An attempt is made to make the Sovereign the new establishment, as avatars of protocol and politeness, but the movie won’t stop reminding us that they’re fundamentally silly, nullifying the contrast.
The first guardians thrived on juxtaposition — between the bumbling, bedraggled Guardians and the power and gravitas of the Nova Corp and Ronan — on subverting an audience’s expectations of what a superhero movie or a Marvel movie could be. Now the expectation is subversion, and the expected is what we get. The only characters who really grow or change or learn something over the movie are Rocket and Nebula, who, granted, has a very satisfyingly wrought character turn.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 still made me laugh (less often than I expected, primarily because so many of the movie’s big, early jokes were in its trailers). I was intrigued by various clever action set pieces. The film’s visual design is often stunning, somewhere in a fantastical realm between Dr. Seuss and Yellow Submarine. At any moment, it seems, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is ready to break out into a perfectly framed, high res desktop background.
But it’s not great. It’s not bad either. It’s just more of the same. And yet, it still managed to make me cry a single tear from my own god damn eye.
For that it will never be forgiven.