Picking up where Guardians of the Galaxy, the surprise hit of 2014, left off, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the gang are back defending the galaxy to the soundtrack of some classic 70s and 80s tunes. While not quite as refreshing as the original, the sequel still stays true to its atmosphere, mixing angst, comedy and action to create a bold, brash and utterly enjoyable blockbuster.
Following their victory at the end of the first film, Quill, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and the adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) travel the galaxy, finding work wherever a planet or species needs defending. The film opens with a spectacular fight scene as the team protects some valuable batteries from a vicious space monster while Baby Groot grooves across the screen to Mr. Blue Sky by The Electric Orchestra. After collecting their reward (which turns out to be Gamora’s sister, Nebula), it is revealed that Rocket stole the batteries anyway, and they are pursued by the Sovereign race, a group of ‘perfect’ golden beings with a horrendously competitive streak.
The conflict quickly escalates, with Quill’s father (Ego, played by Kurt Russell) arriving in his life in a literal ball of light when he explodes the Sovereign’s entire fleet. In the wake of this destruction, the Sovereign approach Yondu, Quill’s kind-of-adopted-dad, and encourage him to track down the Guardians and return them to face their punishment. The Guardians get split up, Quill’s father turns out to be a minor God who is accompanied everywhere by an empath called Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Yondu faces a rebellion and is replaced by someone called Taserface (of all things) and, as you can see, the plot gets a little… convoluted.
This difficulty in following the plot is probably the film’s one major flaw, as it attempts to carry forward themes and dynamics from the first film which, quite frankly, I struggled to remember – especially when it came to characters like Nebula and Yondu. This is a trap that Marvel’s films seem to be falling into more and more often: the assumption that every viewer has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of past films. While subtle nods to the fans should be expected, pretty much all of the secondary plotlines in this film relied on the audience having a solid foundation of familiarity with the last film, and it does lessen the feeling of immersion when you’re trying to recall everyone’s backstories just to keep up with the plot.
Still, Baby Groot more than makes up for any moments of confusion. Who knew that a tiny sentient tree could be so cute? One of the funniest scenes in the whole film comes when he is tasked with retrieving something from a bedside drawer and keeps misunderstanding, returning with – among other things – a severed finger and an entire metal desk. It’s also amusing to see the way the other characters interact with the infant in their midst, exemplified when Quill repeatedly shouts ‘Groot, put on your seatbelt!’ while attempting to manoeuvre through a field of asteroids in the middle of a battle.
Indeed, as was the case in the first movie, it is the interactions between the characters that transform this from a simple space action film into a heart-warming and often heart-breaking watch. Drax and Mantis’ developing friendship is touching, while Gamora and Nebula are finally able to face up to their sibling rivalry. Family is a key theme in this film, as Rocket also struggles to accept his place in the Guardians, and Quill is forced to weigh up his turbulent relationships with his two paternal figures.
The visuals and special effects are also stunning, with Ego's planet looking absolutely gorgeous, despite the slightly dubious-looking plastic statues littered about. The action is glossy and well-choreographed and, as is the case in Marvel's other ensemble superhero movies, it's fun to see how the group interweave and join together in larger fight scenes.
Of course, a Guardians of the Galaxy review would not be complete without some mention of the music. Quill’s mother’s favourite songs are what keeps him tethered to earth, and it’s hard not to be thrilled when the first few notes of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain kick in. The soundtrack isn’t quite as iconic as it was in the first movie, but it’s still very strong, and often leaves a smile on your face.
In short, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is extremely entertaining, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the legacy of its predecessor. The next appearance of the Guardians will be in Avengers: Infinity War, which is due to come out in May 2019. The Marvel juggernaut won't be stopping any time soon, with the coming film set to be the biggest one yet.