(MINOR SPOILERS! SPECIFICALLY, THE IDENTITY OF THIS FILM’S MAIN VILLAIN WILL BE REVEALED)
The Guardians of the Galaxy are back!
And this time, they’ve brought some new friends with them, friends with names like Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone, and … David Hasselhoff?
That’s right. David Hasselhoff is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and somehow, it feels totally appropriate. For all the words that have been written comparing Guardians of the Galaxy to the Star Wars franchise, it’s true ancestor is the 1978 Italian film, Starcrash. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Starcrash was Hasselhoff’s film debut.) Watch the trailer below and just try to tell me that you can’t imagine Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana in the lead roles.
But enough about my obsession with Italian exploitation films. I know the question that you want answered. Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as good as the first one?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is an absolute blast, a wonderfully entertaining film that mixes subversive comedy with sci-fi action. Everyone from the first film — Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel — is back and they’ve still got the same winning chemistry that made the first film so much fun. Everyone is still committed to their roles, delivering even the strangest of dialogue with undeniable flair. Nobody’s gotten bored with saving the universe yet. The new additions to the cast are all well selected. Kurt Russell totally disproves the assumption that MCU villains are never as interesting as their heroic opponents but, then again, it helps that he’s playing a character who has a memorable and odd backstory. Once again, director James Gunn combines crowd-pleasing moments with his own sharp sense of humor. If the pompous tone of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman made you sick, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the perfect antidote.
Unfortunately, Volume 2 doesn’t provide the same thrill of discovery as the first film. It’s easy to forget that, before the first film came out, a lot of people were predicting that Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first MCU film to flop at the box office. The conventional wisdom was that, as opposed to a character like Captain America, no one, outside of a few comic book readers, knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were. Chris Pratt was just the goofy guy from Parks and Recreation. A talking raccoon? A walking tree? It was all way too weird, the naysayers proclaimed, to appeal to a mainstream audience.
However, James Gunn proved them wrong. Guardians of the Galaxy was not only the most successful MCU film to that date but it was also my pick for the best film of 2014. I can still remember watching it for the first time and immediately falling in love with both the film’s skewered sensibility and Chris Pratt’s funny but soulful performance. As opposed to a lot of films that were nominated for and won Oscars that year, Guardians of the Galaxy actually holds up after repeat viewings.
(Seriously, has anyone tried to rewatch Birdman lately?)
Going into the sequel, everyone now knows who the Guardians are and Chris Pratt is now a beloved film star. Volume 2 has a lot to live up to and, for the most part, it succeeds. It’s a tremendous amount of fun and, at the same time, it has a heart. (The heart at the center of the Guardian of the Galaxy films is perhaps the biggest heart in the MCU.)
What is the film about? Much like the first film, it’s about family. After years of telling everyone that his father was David Hasselhoff, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally meets his real father (Kurt Russell), a God-like figure named Ego. Charismatic, cheerful, and just a little bit odd, Ego seems like the perfect father figure but he has some secrets of his own. Russell gives a wonderful performance, making Ego one of the few MCU villains to be as interesting as the heroes.
While Peter is bonding with his dad, he is also being pursued by his adoptive father, the blue-skinned space pirate named Yondu (Michael Rooker). Yondu has been rejected by both his adopted son and the rest of his adopted family. The other space pirates are no longer loyal to him. His former boss (Sylvester Stallone) wants nothing to do with him. As silly as it all may sound, it’s also unexpectedly poignant, thanks to Michael Rooker’s performance. Rooker has appeared in several of Gunn’s films. He’s almost the Cary Grant to Gunn’s Alfred Hitchcock. Rooker gives one of the best performances of his careeer in the role of Yondu. It’s tempting to be dismissive of Yondu, with his blue-skin and his Alabama accent, but Rooker makes him one of the most compelling characters to ever be found in an MCU film.
Meanwhile, Rocket Raccoon (voiced again by Bradley Cooper) has become a surrogate father figure to Groot (voice by Vin Diesel), who is still just a baby tree. (Groot, a living tree, was reduced to just a twig at the end of the first film. Fortunately, Rocket planted the twig and, in another few movies, we’ll hopefully have a fully grown Groot.) Yes, Baby Groot does get to dance, again. At one point, one of the film’s villains forbids any of his henchmen from attacking Baby Groot because he’s just too adorable to destroy. And he’s right! After this movie, everyone will want a Baby Groot of their own.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has been reunited with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gilliam) and, once again, they spend most of the movie trying to kill each other. I have three older sisters so I related to their relationship.
And finally, Drax (Dave Bautista) is still mourning his family. Fortunately, he gets to spend some quality time with Ego’s odd assistant, an empath named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Drax and Mantis both have no idea how social interaction is supposed to work and their scenes together are definitely a highlight of the film. Bautista and Klementieff share a really likable chemistry. Bautista is one of those actors who can make you laugh just be giving the camera a quizzical look. Drax may not be as a complicated as the other Guardians but that simplicity often makes him as interesting as his more complex compatriots.
The film’s not only about family. It’s also a strike against elitism and a celebration for freedom. Over the course of two films, the Guardians have battled against both an actual god and a fanatic who claimed to speak for God. At a time when so many movie heroes are tools of authoritarianism, the Guardians of the Galaxy stand for freedom. In many ways, Peter Quill is as much of a symbol for liberty as Captain America. Captain America makes his point with a shield while Peter Quill makes his case by dancing.
As might be expected from an MCU film, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is full of thrilling visuals, exciting battles, and quotable one liners. Even if it never reaches the heights of the first one, it’s a blast of a film and, as Arleigh told me it would, the finale brought tears to my mismatched eyes. See it and have a good time.
Also, be sure to stick around through the entire end credits. Along with a lot of clues about what might happen in the future of the MCU, there’s also one final Groot joke that made me laugh out loud.