I’m going to do something that I really should do–compare Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to another Marvel film. Not Guardians of the Galaxy so much but rather Avengers: The Age of Ultron. I’ll get to that in a bit.
The plot this time around is that since they saved the galaxy, the gang has been in high demand as a cosmic group of heroes for hire. The film opens with the team protecting a bunch of batteries belonging to the haughty alien race, The Sovereign, from an enormous monster who want to steal them. The job goes off without a hitch except for one thing, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals some of the valuable batteries for himself. This puts the team in the crosshairs of The Sovereign, who consider that an insult punishable by death.
Outnumbered and outgunned, things look dire before a celestial being of immense power intercedes on their behalf. The being is Ego (Kurt Russell), who just happens to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) dad. He has been searching for Peter for decades and, now that he’s found him, has grand plans for his little boy. However, when those plans go into effect, the Guardians to have to save the galaxy again.
So, how is this like Avengers: Age of Ultron, you might ask? Well, I felt the same way after leaving this one as I did leaving A:AoU–that the film attempted to balance a sizeable returning cast while introducing a whole new set of characters and throwing in a whole bunch of fan service at its audience. The result is a film that could have been great, but was way too busy to be anything more than just good.
To explain what I am talking about, here are some of the plot points that Gunn crams into this film: Introducing The Sovereign and how they work. Introducing Ego. Introducing Mantis (Pom Klementieff), furthering the Quill/Gamora (Zoe Saldana) relationship, establishing the Quill/Ego relationship, show the combative nature of Quill’s relationship with Rocket, expound upon Quill’s history with Yondu (Michael Rooker), show Yondu’s relationship with his present team of Ravagers and his former team of Ravagers, work on the Gamora/Nebula (Karen Gillian) rivalry, rehash their problems with their dad, Thanos, develop a Mantis/Drax (Dave Bautista) friendship, and so on and so on. That’s more interpersonal relationships and conflict than you’d get in a full year of a Mexican telenovela.
There is really too much stuff going on. James Gunn, like Joss Whedon in A:AoU, is a skilled enough writer/director to give us just enough to make the character and story arcs work. But “just enough” doesn’t always make for an all that enjoyable of a movie. “Just enough” leaves you wanting more, but not in a good way.
For example, Yondu plays a bigger role in this film than he did in the last one. In the process, his character changes from being a rogue with a secret heart of gold to being a good man (well, if any thief/mercenary can be a good man) who made a big mistake and is seeking redemption. The two character traits do not have to be mutually exclusive, but here the latter replaces the former. As a result, Yondu gets a lot more backstory, often related through dialogue. It’s a case of telling not showing, mainly through an info dump of an argument he has with a former comrade, Stakar (Sylvester Stallone, in essentially a cameo role that will probably get a whole lot bigger in future installments). It gets the job done as it sets up Yondu’s character arc in the film, but it would have been nice to get a little bit more.
If Gunn did more than just a perfunctory job rushing through these plot points, the film could have been great. The film has a lot going for it. It is beautifully shot. The special effects are well done and used to good effect. The acting is superb. And Gunn does a good enough job in the finale to push all the emotional buttons he’s aiming at in his audience. But it’s not enough to completely escape the paint-by-numbers approach in play throughout the whole film. The film’s seams are showing. If you don’t see them, you might love this film. If you do, the best you can hope for is liking it.