‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ review

'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is the rare sequel that doesn't mess with success

Marvel Studios had already churned out nine blockbusters in a row before the first Guardians of the Galaxy hit theaters, but the success of that 2014 film was still a surprise.

The cast of characters was barely known to the public, and the actors appearing on the screen were marginally more so. The cosmic setting for the film – far away from where the majority of the film’s predecessors were set – certainly didn’t help matters.

So when Guardians of the Galaxy finished the year as the third highest grossing film of 2014 domestically and worldwide – and more importantly, the highest-grossing comic book movie of the year, ahead of both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past – it was clear that Marvel, along with director James Gunn, had tapped into something special.

A sequel was assured, but fans and critics alike wondered whether there was any hope that a follow-up film could capture that same wonderfully weird, hilarious, and surprisingly touching magic that made the first film such a hit.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what that motley bunch of a-holes (their term, not ours) does in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Directed once again by Gunn and bringing back most of the first film’s cast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t hold many surprises, but it’s as good, possibly even better, than the original. And like all the best sequels, it uses the freedom it has with its now-established characters to fully explore their potential both individually and collectively.

This time around, Chris Pratt’s charismatic team leader Peter Quill finds himself getting acquainted with the father he never knew in Kurt Russell’s enigmatic Ego, the human embodiment of a massively powerful entity.

Accompanying Peter on his reunion journey is the former assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the nigh invulnerable warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), and the empathic Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a newcomer to the franchise that they meet along the way.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t hold many surprises, but it’s as good, possibly even better, than the original.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team members find themselves dealing with a host of problems stemming from a questionable decision made by Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a vendetta held against the team by Gamora’s half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), and an ongoing feud with the Ravagers – a team of space pirates led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). The sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) also returns for another adventure, still in early stages of growth after the events of the prior film.

From the opening moments of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there’s a genuine sense that the characters have grown accustomed to each other’s company, and Gunn wisely mines that fresh vein of comedy with his script for the film. They’re a close-knit team now – more so than they ever were in the first film – and that gives the story a new dynamic that makes it feel fresh.

Still, Gunn clearly understands what worked about the first film and lets those elements evolve in the sequel. The film’s soundtrack, for example, plays just as integral a role in the sequel as it did in the 2014 film, but with a whole new set of songs and sequences to pair them with, the movie’s pronounced audio element is as welcome as it is familiar.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

To his credit, Gunn is able to cram a lot of character development into a film with a crowded cast, and none of the characters – old or new – feel shortchanged when the credits roll.

Gunn is able to cram a lot of character development into a film with a crowded cast

In their respective roles, Bautista feels infinitely more at ease as Drax this time around, and Gunn – as the film’s screenwriter – is noticeably more comfortable with the role Rocket plays on the team. With Groot now a “baby” (or is it a sapling?), the part he plays on the team remains relatively in flux throughout the film, but the comedy he (it?) doles out keeps things light without seeming too cutesy or campy.

Pratt continues to play the charismatic hero role reliably well, and while the sequel doesn’t really encourage him to break new ground with the character, he continues to give audiences what they expect from him.

Looking back on Pratt’s career, it’s strange that the former Parks and Recreation actor has become one of the safest bets you can make in an adventure movie these days, but it’s true; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 won’t change your mind, either.

If there’s a standout performance to be found in Vol. 2, it’s in Rooker’s blue-skinned, fin-headed pirate captain Yondu, who’s granted significantly more screen time in the sequel and runs away with the scenes he’s given. Yondu and his whistle-controlled arrow make for fun action sequences time and time again in Vol. 2.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Although the story feels fresh in Vol. 2 and goes to some new, fantastic places, it’s amazing that the sequel can be so entertaining without changing its fundamental formula. So much of the cast is recycled, yet they’re somehow more interesting than they were in the first film.

Gunn clearly cares about the characters he’s developed over the course of these two films, and his attention to detail – and to each of the characters as independent elements in the story he’s telling – shows in every scene.

Even after two films in a row with essentially the same set of characters, you can’t help wanting to go on many, many more adventures with this motley crew.

They are a fun team, even if they are a bunch of a-holes.