How do you follow up a surprise hit like the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and do it justice? Certainly not like this. With the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Marvel has continued their latest trend of cramming way too many ideas into one film and ultimately diluting the impact of the main story they were trying to tell. Written and directed by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. follows our team – Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Batista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) – as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand. (Summary courtesy of Marvel.) Note: this review contains spoilers.
Before I get to what I didn’t like, let’s talk about what I did like:
The music was fantastic, just like it was in the first movie. It was used at all the right times and in all the right ways. Especially in the opening credits, which featured Baby Groot dancing his way through the battle with the giant squid thing seen in the trailers. Best opening credits sequence since the opening credits of Deadpool last year. Baby Groot, in fact, was a real highlight throughout the movie, perfectly balancing the cuteness that we all love with the character development that Groot needs. Same thing with Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker); their character arcs paralleled each other in a number of ways that was really enjoyable to watch. They’re both trying to go through similar things, and Yondu sees Rocket as a younger version of himself, so Yondu doesn’t want Rocket to make the same mistakes he did. It’s a neat little connection that helps further Yondu’s redemption arc.
The acting, in general, was pretty good; nobody was particularly bad. Chris Pratt continued to show why he’s become a household name. He was great, as was the rest of the cast. There were some fun cameos, none of which I’ll reveal here (though if you want to know, you can easily find out). The special effects were good. It’s a very pretty looking movie. The character interactions are great. This movie is really strong on character development and weak on plot. Kurt Russell as Ego, Peter Quill’s father, was particularly good. Though, I felt he was a bit too obviously a bad guy. From his first scene, I immediately felt that he was bad news bears. Which wasn’t really a good thing. Karen Gillan’s Nebula was also another standout, especially when it came to her character development. She was given a lot more to do in this film, and it was much appreciated.
Now, for what I didn’t like:
This film is a mess, plotwise. It’s an enjoyable mess, but a mess nonetheless. Guardians Vol. 2 suffers from the same problems that Civil War had: it has a really good central plot and then far too many subplots, causing the climax of the film to be a mess and minimizing its ultimate impact. In Civil War, the problem was that it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a movie about Steve and Bucky or if it wanted to be a movie about the fallout from what happened in Sokovia and follow the Civil War plot from the comics closer. It tried to do both, and in the end neither really worked all that well. There were cool action sequences, but narratively, it didn’t work. It’s the same thing with Guardians 2. Guardians 2 can’t seem to decide if it wants to be telling a story about Peter Quill and his dad, if it wants to be a redemption story for Yondu, or if it wants to be more like the original film, both in tone and in plot, tying in more with the MCU at large.
The movie desperately needed a rewrite or two. The comedy was good, and the characters were good, but the plot was all over the place. Way too much time was spent on the subplots with the Ravagers and the Sovereign people (the gold people) and, ultimately, they weren’t important to the story that was trying to be told. Especially the Sovereign people. I don’t care that a connection has to be put in place because the Sovereign become important later. You need to focus on the quality of the movie you’re currently making, and if an element of your movie is dragging the quality down, then it needs to go.
The story they were trying to tell was the story of Ego and Peter Quill. Yondu factors into that majorly, so at least some of the Ravager plotline needs to stay (also because it leads to events that cause both Yondu and Rocket to have good character growth.) But the Sovereign people do not really factor into that story at all. Their arc is entirely separate and nearly completely unneeded (aside from the batteries being important to the climax). It’s a tighter movie overall if you minimalize these two subplots as much as possible and devote as much time as you can to Yondu’s redemption arc and the Ego and Starlord arc.
Essentially, here is what I’d do (in brief – it’s not my job to rewrite this movie, after all):
- If the Sovereign people have to appear in the movie, keep them at the beginning. Since the batteries that Rocket steals from the Sovereign people end up mattering in the climax, the beginning of the movie can stay more or less the same as it currently is with the Guardians protecting the batteries, Rocket stealing them, the armada chasing after them, leading to the point where Ego destroys the Sovereign armada and the Guardians crash-land on that planet. However, under no circumstances should they keep reappearing throughout the movie. The last that should be heard from them is when they hire Yondu and his Ravagers to find the Guardians of the Galaxy (so that the Ravager plotline still works and they have a reason to go after the Guardians, which furthers Yondu’s arc). And then you can keep the post-credits scene where Adam is introduced, since he’s, apparently, important in the MCU.
- Some of the stuff with the Ravagers has to stay – in fact, most of it needs to stay. The first scene with them where Sylvester Stallone’s character banishes Yondu and the High Priestess of the Sovereign people hire Yondu and his crew to track the Guardians can stay. The scene where Yondu and crew attack Rocket and Groot can stay, as can the mutiny (that leads to Yondu losing his fin) and Gamora siding with the Ravagers and helping capture Groot and Rocket. After that’s where we start making some changes.
- There was no reason that we needed such an extended scene in the middle of the movie where the mutinous Ravagers verbally torture Rocket and Yondu (and then physically torture Groot). That entire section could’ve and should’ve been cut. You could go straight from the Ravagers turning on Yondu and capturing him, Rocket, and Groot with Nebula’s help to the scene of Rocket and Yondu in the jail cell. By the time the Ravagers capture Groot and Rocket, Yondu has already been majorly put down twice and had his entire crew rebel against him. So the scene of them verbally abusing him in the spaceship is redundant. And nobody wants to see a baby (even if it’s an anthropomorphic baby talking tree) be physically tortured by a bunch of drunk space pirates. There was no need for that. The same things could’ve been established by cutting out the bits where the Ravagers torture Yondu, Groot, and Rocket.
- Once the scene cuts from their capture on the planet (with Nebula’s help), it can cut right to Gamora leaving the ship on her own ship and then to Rocket and Yondu in their cell, and the rest of the scene can play out from there like it is.
- Keeping the Ravagers appearing at Yondu’s funeral is smart, too. It helps fully sell his redemption arc. We’ll keep that as well. The big cut we’re making to this subplot is that bit on the ship where they verbally and physically torture Rocket, Groot, and Yondu. There’s just no need for it and it’s detrimental to the flow of the movie and the enjoyment of the movie. (Nobody wants to see Baby Groot being tortured like that!)
- This is related to the first point, but it bears repeating. Keep the Sovereign people out of the climax. They did not need to be there! It should’ve just been Peter and the rest of the Guardians and Yondu (and his one crewmate that stuck with him) fighting Ego. This way, the movie could’ve really focused on Yondu’s redemption storyline. By having the Sovereign in the climax, this whole thing gets diluted somewhat because there’s now way too much happening all at once. The core of the story is Peter seeing that even though Ego was his biological father, Yondu was actually his dad. That’s what should be being focused on.
Doing those three things gives a more focused story. It doesn’t seem like much was changed because really, much wasn’t changed. It’s essentially the same movie, just with a couple of cuts. It would require some rewrites, and that takes time, sure. But those changes definitely would’ve made for a stronger movie. If the rewrites couldn’t be done in time, then Marvel could’ve switched the release date of Guardians 2 with either Thor: Ragnorak or Black Panther. Surely one of those movies would’ve had a script in better shape that could’ve started production when Guardians 2 started and allowed Guardians 2 the extra script rewrite time it needed.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t a bad movie. Its plot is a bit of a mess, but it’s funny and enjoyable, has good visuals and character development, and has a killer soundtrack. It’s a lot of fun, even if it’s messy. Messy can still be fun (just look at finger painting!)
I give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 four out of five wands. I originally gave this three wands, but the more I thought about how good the character development was, and how the characters really drove the plot, I liked the movie more. I still think much of the Sovereign stuff should’ve been cut. But I’m more okay with the Ravagers stuff than I was when I originally wrote this. I still think it should’ve been shortened a bit, but the biggest problem is definitely the Sovereign, and just cutting them after Ego destroys their armada would’ve been smart (and when they hire Yondu and co to track down the Guardians).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently in theaters.