Synopsis: How does a ragtag volunteer army in need of a shower encounter a galactic superpower?
Let me start with this: Unlike John, I was mildly interested in seeing this movie. I wasn’t crazy about the first one, but I understand why people love it. I had a good time, but it wasn’t quite on the same level of other Marvel adventures. I can manage only small doses of Chris Pratt and I wanted more Michael Rooker, Gamora, and Nebula. Oh, and that guy from the first season of Angel. I’ll take him too. I watched the first one this past Friday and I can tell you nothing about it other than, “That line about Jackson Pollock was pretty good.” Buuuuuuut it was kind of nice because I didn’t compare Volume 2 to the first!
Yes, I was wrong. (Note from John: I told you so!) I was so wrong about Volume 2. Volume 2 is one of those rare movies that really does well in capitalizing on the “The first one was good, but it would be SO cool if they put more of X in there.” I got much more Yondu, somewhat more Nebula, a full scene of dancing Groot, less Pratt, and most importantly- I GOT ME SOME KURT RUSSELL. (Bonus: Tommy Flanagan shows up doing a Jack Sparrow impression!)
Volume 2 takes off just a few months after the first one. Fresh off their victory in saving Xandar from Ronan, the Guardians have become a full blown for-hire operation. Peter Quill and Gamora are still in the phase of sexual tension, Drax has somewhat improved his communication skills, Baby Groot is walking, and Rocket Raccoon is still kind of a jerk. Meanwhile, Rooker’s Yondu is feeling the pushback from his rogue crew about refusing to properly discipline Quill for his betrayal and Nebula is still brooding about her sister. Best of all, Kurt Russell shows up! He’s Quill’s dad (Ego) and he’s got some interesting heirlooms to leave behind.
There are some great change-ups to Volume 2, namely story-wise and the overall approach that I wasn’t expecting- they bring it down to a much more personal level than just “another dude trying to take over the universe.” I’m tired of the nukes always being in danger and inevitable world destruction around the corner! After carefully building things up with excellent foreshadowing and character and relationship enrichment, by the time we get to “Yeah, another dude is trying to take over the universe,” the payoff has ten times more impact on a deeper, more resounding level. Everything is so much more personal, the stakes feel higher, and we get a fuller picture of the relationships between all of the characters. Action sequences are smartly used to establish or change how characters feel about one another, rather than just do the expected “BANG BANG, LOOK, EXPLOSIONS!”
For the most part, the actors do a good job with the script they were given, with standout performances from the Tombstone reunion of Rooker and- you guessed it- KURT RUSSELL. If Tom Hanks wasn’t America’s Dad, I would nominate Russell- he’s got the perfect twinkle in his eye and a great “Meh- sure, you lost your toes but you still got your thumbs, amirite?” delivery. His dialogue does get a little long-winded, but I think anyone else delivering the lines would be much less endearing. When Russell speaks, I listen. And I was so pleased to get a copious dosage of Rooker in this movie! I was wondering why his face was so big on the poster and it all makes sense now. This movie might have Pratt in top billing, but Rooker is truly the heart- he does an impressive job of balancing Yondu’s over-the-top physical appearance, violent outbursts, comedic lines, and genuine one-on-ones. It’s a unique role for anyone to have played and Rooker is just perfect.
That being said, Volume 2 is still about the fun. It’s a movie that takes place in space with a baby Ent! Director James Gunn does a great job of knowing when those moments come with appropriate splashes of color that would make Lisa Frank proud. Every space adventure movie needs to learn from Volume 2- the world-building feels full and distinct… and adventurous! I’m not sure if the movie’s CGI will age well, but it worked. The editing is outstanding and surprisingly smooth for all the fast-moving action sequences and all the chaos. We get a lot of nice long takes following the characters as they zip around instead of soar-cut! turn-cut! dive-cut! land-cut! This is how an action-adventure movie needs to be shot. The fun of this movie really lies in the visuals. Sure, the dialogue is there but some of the jokes do misfire, some of the lines are too obvious, the score is a little too much “LOOK, HE’S A HERO” in the more poignant scenes, and I eventually got tired of Drax laughing “HA HA HA HA HA” at everything, minus a delightful chortle with Mantis the empath alien- she’s cute. There is an excellent scene where Rocket and Yondu have a heartfelt chat and decide to team up- everything on screen is a joy to watch and enhanced by the music and just a few lines of script, and it’s pretty much all you need to watch to understand what this movie (and hopefully the series) is getting at.
I would say Volume 2 is better than the first, but it would help if I could remember it. Does it matter if it’s better or not? I really don’t think sequels need to be better than the previous movie. In my book, a good sequel has the ability to enhance the series- it takes what is familiar about this group of people and further develops them. The attachment to the characters is what drives an audience to the next chapter. I loved learning about these characters and watching then grow as a team and family and I’m looking forward to Volume 3- but I want more Nebula.