Anyone who knows me is aware that I am very vocal about my opinions of Marvel Studios. In general, I think they’re an unimaginative studio that consistently churns out mediocre films that aren’t bad enough to be universally panned, but not good enough to inspire anything in me beyond a general feeling of, “eh.” There is one exception to this rule, however. I love the original Guardians of the Galaxy. I think it’s a movie full of imagination and style and is completely different from the rest of the Marvel Formula. For this reason, I was excited about the sequel but nervous about lightning being able to strike twice. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I can say that lightning didn’t only strike again, it set the entire forest on fire.
There are two things that can happen in a sequel scenario. Either the movie can be bogged down by attempts to redo the exact same thing as the first time around, or it can take the strengths of the original and build upon them. Thankfully, Galaxy 2 is much closer to the latter. I’ve heard a lot of people reviewing this film say that it’s good, but it isn’t as funny as the original. And they’re right, it isn’t as much of a laugh riot as the first one. But, in my humble opinion, I honestly think that this is a better film. Allow me to explain. The original is a terrific pure action comedy. There are hilarious scenes and cool action set pieces that really make for an awesome surprise theater experience. However, for people like me who own the Bluray, it loses some luster after a few viewings because you know all the jokes before they happen and without them, there’s not much underneath. This is where Galaxy 2 really excels. As a whole, I think it is a more complete film. Allow me to explain.
The benefit of a sequel is we already know the characters and the world so the filmmakers can just tell a good story without needing to introduce us to anything. This is why The Empire Strikes Back is so much more impactful than A New Hope. By Empire, the entertainment comes from the way the characters grow rather than the pure awe of seeing a lightsaber for the first time. This is the absolute strength of Galaxy 2. The characters are so much denser this time around. Each member of the cast has moments to grow and really brings something new to their dynamics that we didn’t see in the first film. Even side characters from the first film like Karen Gillan’s Nova and Michael Rooker’s Yondu become fully fleshed out and really went toe to toe with the main five. The only character I would’ve liked to see more from was Zoe Saldana as Gamora. She was good in the film, but I felt that she served as a vessel for other characters’ growth rather than showing anything new herself. Otherwise, I felt incredibly invested with every single person in this film.
Let’s talk about the unique structure of this film. The script is incredible. Unlike most comic book movies which are simple stories driven either by a search for a MacGuffin or the battle against some evil force seeking revenge, Galaxy 2 is, at its heart, and examination of family and really doesn’t follow any sort of familiar structure whatsoever. There isn’t really a clear-cut villain or protagonist, but more of a series of character arcs that combine their own personal struggles to culminate in an awesome finale. I suppose the IMDb logline would probably read something like, “The Guardians of the Galaxy have a shakeup to their team dynamics when Peter Quill’s long-lost father comes looking for him.” The Freudian storyline of Starlord and his dad was the single most imaginative thing I have seen in any Marvel Movie to date. Every twist relating to that relationship had me absolutely floored and really revealed the genius of James Gunn’s script. Plus, it helped to have an actor like Kurt Russell in a role perfectly tailor-made for his acting style.
Is the movie as funny as the original? No, but it’s still really entertaining. There are fewer comedy set pieces or action spectacles but those that we do get are really brilliant. The music isn’t as iconic as the original, but it’s still really groovy and fits the film very well. I think the casual movie fan will probably find this movie to be a dramatic step down from the first, whereas people like me who appreciate movies as an artform will really appreciate it for its artistic excellence. This is the first Marvel Movie to really take legitimate risks. They let James Gunn go wild with his James Gunn-ness allowing his unique style to be felt in every scene, to a degree that cannot be felt in the more safe original. Ultimately, I think every Marvel Movie could take notes from this one.
This is a beautiful movie. I don’t mean that like it’s a particularly introspective film, even though there are a lot of really meaningful emotional scenes, but more so that it just looks gorgeous. That is something that you can’t say about any other Marvel movie. Any of them. While the celluloid in movies like Cap 3 looks like muddy concrete, this one looks like a vibrant and amber work of art. Henry Braham acted as the cinematographer for this film and brought an eye that was much needed in the Marvel Universe. To aid him was a series of lavish and creative sets that were meticulously crafted by the film’s production department. Even the sets that were digitally created looked absolutely breathtaking. I think we’re spoiled these days with the age of CGI. We now live in a time where, unless it’s a film like Nine Lives, we’re simply just not going to see bad CGI anymore. Thus, we don’t stop to praise it when we see it. The CGI in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is absolutely astounding. In fact, it might be some of the best of all time.
I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m being swayed by Marvel Fever. I’m not, trust me. I’ve been burned by opening night hype before. The first time I saw Rogue One, I loved it. As is evident by my review in which I kind of disregarded my problems with the Movie. When I saw it a second time, though, I enjoyed it significantly less. All the issues I had the first time around bothered me considerably more. Remembering this incident, I made sure to see Galaxy 2 twice before reviewing it. And the result? Quite the opposite of Rogue One in that I enjoyed it significantly more. All the little nitpicking issues I had the first time disappeared. It’s still not a perfect movie, I recognize that. The biggest issue with the film is the beginning. It feels like they take a little while to few their footing. But, where the first film runs out of steam before it’s over, this one only gains momentum as it progresses. Is it a better film than the first one? I’m not prepared to make that statement. I will say that it is a better made film and is ultimately a perfect sequel. I highly recommend it.
All images are from Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, a Marvel Studios production