Three years after Guardians of the Galaxy – heretofore known as Volume 1 – was released, at the time Marvel’s biggest gamble and arguably biggest success story, comes Volume 2. Only now the weight of expectation rests on the shoulders of returning director James Gunn and cast, all of whom – Pratt especially – are so well known now and the characters so well embedded in the public consciousness (hands up if you own a Dancing Groot) that the film has to try twice as hard to be just as good, so it’s a strange and disappointing feeling that Vol 2, the one part of the Marvel franchise apparently the most director driven with the least studio interference, feels very much like a movie by committee that attempts to recapture lightning in a bottle, but as a result feels like a lazy rehash. Luckily the film it’s rehashing was pretty great.
After saving the universe last time out, the Guardians are still mercenaries for hire doing jobs for whoever pays the most. Following a stunning opening credits scene where the Guardians fight a giant space squid, all scored to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky that’s likely more expensive that the entirety of the first Iron Man, the film settles into a familiar groove that despite all the bouncing around the galaxy never gets out of first gear or hits any truly surprising beats.
The gang are separated for a good deal of the running time; Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) meets his father Ego (Kurt Russell) and begin bonding in scenes that criminally show off none of the considerable charisma of both stars. Rocket and Baby Groot are captured by uninteresting space pirates. Gamora and Nebula (Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan) work out their daddy issues on each other. And Drax (Dave Batista) gets turned up to 11 but not in a good way, which is the film’s problem in a nutshell. We’re given more of everything we liked in Volume 1 and then some, which becomes tiresome. Jokes fall flat or outstay their welcome. Moments that are meant to feel triumphant feel nasty. It’s the movie equivalent of the Ironic Punishment Division. “You like Groot, do ya? Well, here’s ALL THE GROOT IN THE WORLD.” A little restraint would have been nice.
The film is a feast for the eyeballs and easily the brightest and most vibrant film you’ll see this year, but it’s a Technicolor bore. It’s never bad, just sort of there. Marvel movies are often accused of being formulaic, but at least there’s always some forward momentum, a feeling that it’s building to something greater. Volume 2 is mostly a self contained standalone adventure, which would be fine if it weren’t so, for lack of a better word, blah. The main crux of the film is the relationship between Peter and his father which despite a third act revelation isn’t nearly as interesting as you’d hope. Nothing in the film is. Volume 2 feels just feels like more of the same: importance of teamwork, family isn’t always your blood relations, yada yada yada.
It’s that difficult second album syndrome. High off the plaudits for your first smash hit, you start to believe your own hype and are convinced everything you do is brilliant. Eclectic soundtrack, check. Irreverent humour, check. Cute talking tree/merchandise opportunity, check. Originality? Ummm…
It’s grand. It’s fine. It’s just okay. In a film so full of daddy issues it’s perhaps appropriate that I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.