It’s still a bit surprising to me that some of Marvel’s most obscure characters have become the best of the best when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but that’s exactly what happened with the Guardians of the Galaxy. They exploded onto the scene with their first movie, and quickly vaulted to the top of the list of favorites with their wacky humor, charm and exciting adventures amongst the stars. Saddled with truly lofty expectations in following up their first successful outing with Vol. 2, the Guardians of the Galaxy (GotG) prove once again why they deserve to be among the most beloved characters of the MCU and why their movies operate on an entirely different level from the rest of the super hero crowd. If it doesn’t quite achieve the same heights of the first movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 certainly doesn’t fall too far, and it delivers a very personal and emotional adventure that’s equal parts action-packed, funny, and dramatic.
The Guardians basically captured lightning in a bottle with their first movie, and it’s always difficult to do that twice. There’s clearly a bit of strain in the effort to duplicate what was so effortless the first time around; sometimes it feels as though this movie is just trying too hard to deliver what everyone loved about the first movie. Then the movie splits our beloved team of misfits, which initially seems like it isn’t the best move as what makes this team so much fun is watching how they (dysfunctionaly) interact with each other. However, this time apart allows the character to all develop in some very significant ways. In fact, one of the best things about GotG Vol. 2 is just how character driven it actually is. Even the final climatic battle has high personal stakes, which gives it much more emotional impact than what we usually find in the final, destructive spectacle in most Marvel movies. If the first movie was about bringing this family together, this movie is about exploring those bonds and learning about what it means to truly be a family; something that’s not always easy to do considering the background of most of these characters.
Rocket, in particular, seems to have a hard time with the whole concept of family. It’s hard for him to believe that anyone could just altruistically care about anyone else, let alone him. The great irony is that one of his deepest longings and most desperate needs is to just simply be loved. We got a hint of that when Drax sat down and simply petted Rocket in order to comfort him over the loss of Groot. One character hits the nail on the head when they tell Rocket that anytime he feels even the smallest hint of love, all it does is remind of that gaping, aching, empty hole that’s inside of him. It’s a hole we all have. Some, like Rocket try to run from it or ignore or push it away. Some try to fill it with other things – sex, money, stuff, power, and on and on – only to never be satisfied and perpetually frustrated that they can’t find what they need to fill that hole. The problem is it’s a God-shaped hole that’s in all of us. As Blaise Pascal said when he discussed this concept, it’s a hole that can only be filled with an infinite and immutable object; in other words, God himself. Love reminds us of that hole because it’s God’s love that we need to fill it. That hole will forever remain empty until we can accept the simple truth of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Or to go along with the theme of this movie; we all need to be a part of God’s loving family, and Jesus made a way for us to join it.
Rocket’s struggle, along with the rest of the Guardians, makes this film feel like a smaller, more personal, more emotional adventure. That isn’t to say that the stakes aren’t big; they are. But every character here gets time to grow and mature and develop, and everything that happens is centered on the journey of these characters. So while there are jokes and space dogfights and big action scenes and snazzy special effects; at the core of it all is a lot of heart and several very personal, very powerful moments. No, GotG Vol. 2 doesn’t exactly recapture the magic of the first movie. It recreates it, sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so. Then, however, it sets off and tries to make its own magic, and that’s when this movie really succeeds. The debate will rage over whether or not it’s as good as the first, and I won’t try and settle that here. All I’ll say is I thoroughly enjoyed this more personal, more character driven story despite its flaws. I also think that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 proves that this series is just in a league of its own in the MCU, and that wasn’t a fluke with the first movie.
Score: 6 of 7: There is some rough language and some crass and ribald humor in here, which isn’t unlike the first movie. There’s also some pretty intense action scenes, and some pretty heavy themes and situations running through this movie. For as funny and exciting as it can be, it can also be pretty dark; something to keep in mind. It also has five, yes FIVE, post-credit scenes. Most of them are just fun, and on with Groot is not to be missed. So yeah, don’t leave your seat until the final credit rolls.