Critic’s Corner: “Guardians 2” Continues to Walk the Path Less Traveled

The original “Guardians of the Galaxy” is regarded as one of the best movies to come out of Marvel Studios, a reputation it earned through genuinely good humor, memorable characters and a great retro soundtrack. It threw the superhero formula out the window, was a fun journey from start to finish and ended with a promise that “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return”. Nearly three years later, they’ve done just that, but it begs the question: can Guardians 2 match up to the original?

PHOTO VIA MARVEL
PHOTO VIA MARVEL

Marvel movies have a history of being a hit or miss on their sequels, which understandably created some worry for the newest entry in the franchise. For every “Captain America Winter Soldier” and “Thor: The Dark World” that is widely regarded as superior to the original, we have had an “Iron Man 2” or “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which just doesn’t make the cut. “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” doesn’t really fall into either category; it is not strictly better or worse, but is certainly a different type of movie than its predecessor.

The most significant area of divergence is the structure of this new movie’s story. Unlike the first two installments, which had our characters pinballing through space from set piece to set piece, “Guardians 2” is much more grounded, both figuratively and literally. In place of a mad dash for another McGuffin, this movie has anti-hero Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt, trying to uncover his family history.

The movie introduces Jeff Bridges as his estranged father Ego, a godlike alien that reveals the team’s role in a much larger plan. This part of the movie is probably the least enjoyable, since many of us will have seen this trope before. From “Hercules” to “King Arthur” to “Star Wars,” the unknown parent of great plot significance is pretty overdone, but the way “Guardians 2” handles it does manage to be a bit different.

Where the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was all about the cast coming together, a big theme in the sequel is how they act in separation. Our characters are split up very early on, resulting in two plotlines that each feels like it’s in a different genre.

One is an exploration narrative where everything seems just a little off, while the other is a survival- action struggle with alliances and backstabbing. Branching the story in this way resulted in less overall action compared to the original but also more moments of characterization. With the expanded cast of the sequel, the decision to divide them up gave each individual more room to breathe and have their own arc throughout the movie.

One might justifiably ask if Guardians 1 and 2 even belong in the same conversation, given the efforts made to have an original follow-up. The short answer is that yes, they do; the elements that made the first movie different from your typical sci-fi and superhero fare are still there and still as good as you remember them. The characters are still fun, the jokes still elicit a laugh a minute and the soundtrack still kicks ass.

For those that closely follow Marvel’s movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” has an interesting position within the overall franchise. It not only continues the story established by its predecessor, but was also meant as a sort of prelude to the hotly anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War.” The Guardians of the Galaxy will be prominently featured in the 2018 crossover film, so many expected Guardians 2 to foreshadow and serve as setup for events to come. If you are one of those people, then you will very likely be disappointed.

Other than maybe two minor lines, the movie does not do anything that points to the broader Marvel setting, something that movies in the franchise are typically known for doing. If you do not care about this context, then this could actually be actually be a positive, since it allows Guardians 2 to be more self-contained.

In closing, if you liked “Guardians of the Galaxy” then expect something different, but also expect to be pleasantly surprised.

Carlos may be reached at
ccervantes@su-spectator.com

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