The first time I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I was with Éli Chau and Jane Davidson at The El Capitan Theatre for the premiere on Thursday night. The second time I saw it was with my dad at a local theater last night. Both experiences left me feeling highly entertained by the stunning visuals, 70s pop-rock soundtrack, and wisecracking ensemble. It was good, but like many sequels to mega-hits, was overstuffed and not quite as fresh as the original.
Despite all the guns, gadgets, and abilities used throughout Vol. 2, nothing holds more power than this little show-stealer's eyes:
Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) could easily be considered a weapon of mass adorableness. He's a clear merchandising ploy, and a good one, too. I've been itching to browse the internet for possible purchases. But that doesn't take away from his effectiveness throughout the film. The opening credits sequence, with him dancing along to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" while the rest of the team fights an inter-dimensional being, is pure magic and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Groot also has some great scenes, such as when he tries to find an item for Yondu (Michael Rooker), and the scene when Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) gives him the task of arming and setting a bomb correctly. After his heroic sacrifice in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy, Groot has become a mix of a toddler, a puppy (or kitten), and a little ball of rage, and the rest of the Guardians take turns acting as his - dare I say it - guardian.
In fact, the Guardians are basically one big, dysfunctional, trigger-happy family. We have the sarcastic and noble Peter "Star-Lord" Quill (Chris Pratt), the fierce and rational Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the brawny and goofy Drax (Dave Bautista), the sly and guarded Rocket, and the cute Baby Groot. It almost sounds like a joke waiting to happen, and there are plenty of laughs (particularly from Drax). Add the secretly-caring ravager Yondu, the wrathful assassin Nebula (Karen Gillan), and the socially-awkward empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to the mix, and you have a recipe that can lead to either brilliance or disaster. It ends up leading to both.
What was once a strong ensemble cast was split up both physically and metaphorically. Quill takes the main focus as he finally meets the father he never knew, the celestial Ego (Kurt Russell). Followed by that is Gamora, who works on her sibling rivalry/really messed up childhood with Nebula by using her fists and and guns. With this focus on estranged family, there isn't much room for Rocket, Groot, Yondu, and Kraglin's adventures or Drax and Mantis' strange relationship, which were the parts I liked best and wanted to see more of. But they do try, jumping back and forth for most of the movie until everything finally comes together in the end.
Too crowded, or necessary for what's to come?
These plots very well could have been underdeveloped due to the fact that there were so many different characters and storylines. It could even be argued that there were too many. On top of the seemingly full cast mentioned above, there were several minor roles that didn't seem to serve much purpose - at least, until some are revealed in one of the five end credits scenes. The first that comes to mind are the Sovereign, a golden race that thinks very highly of themselves. Led by high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), they hire the Guardians at the beginning of the movie to protect their super-powerful Anulax Batteries. Rocket ultimately ends up stealing a few, which leads the Sovereign to pursue them in their remote-piloted ships like its some kind of drone / flight simulation / video game mashup.
The Sovereign annoyed me and the people I went to see the movie with, and only seem to accomplish giving the Guardians their last-ditch all-powerful tool that could kill the main big bad. That is, until the third end credits scene, where it is revealed that they have created Adam Warlock, who we can expect to see after Infinity Wars. James Gunn wanted him to be in this movie, but he thankfully showed some restraint due to the several other characters and storylines. I did like the costume/hair & makeup decision to have Ayesha's hair come undone bit by bit in each scene. It was a subtle but brilliant tactic to show her slowly becoming more and more frazzled.
Another example is that, to the average moviegoer, Sylvester Stallone's character didn't seem relevant. He plays Stakar Ogord, a legendary Ravager who saved Yondu from a life of slavery and welcomed him to the Ravagers. However, when Yondu was "dealing in kids" for Ego, Stakar had to exile him, claiming that he will never get a Ravager funeral in a scene that held much more impact the second time around. Thanks to Yondu's surprising friendship and understanding with Rocket, Yondu and Kraglin finally earn their place back amongst the Ravagers, regaining Stakar's respect even if it is a little too late.
The legendary comic writer and editor's now-expected appearance comes up unexpectedly, as Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) are hurtling by on their way to Ego. Stan Lee is telling a story about a time he was a Federal Express Man, a reference to his cameo in Captain America: Civil War. According to the timeline, this happens a few years into the future.
It gets even more interesting when you take into account just who it is he is talking to. They are known as the Watchers, beings who chronicle and observe the events happening in the Marvel Universe. They very rarely interfere, and when they do, it signifies that universe-altering events are coming (Thanos / Infinity Wars, anyone?). This confirms the fan theory that Stan Lee is the same person in every one of his MCU cameos. He is a Watcher.
To summarize: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn't match the genius that was the first one, but it was an entertaining beginning-of-summer blockbuster nonetheless. Éli put it best: "still enjoyable, but not as groundbreaking." As long as you don't think too much and roll with it, you will have a good time, and it will leave you looking forward to the next adventure.