When it comes to summer blockbusters, there’s an obligation to be entertained, to sit in a dark room surrounded by strangers, and be taken away to a galaxy far, far away – and resent the idea you’ll have to return. So while Chris Nolan introduced a darker version of the the genre, steeping his tales in the real world – James Gunn has gone in the other direction, offering a pure, unfiltered sense of entertainment – and with Guardians of the Galaxy thriving in such a capacity he’s returned with a sequel equally as ambitious, and no less adventurous – and we can’t have asked for a lot more than that.
We gathered from the preceding endeavour that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) lost his mother to a brain tumour, before setting off into space and rebranding himself as Star-Lord. Having formed an alliance with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (now in baby form – still voiced by Vin Diesel) – they became the Guardians of the Galaxy. Pretty cool – but he’s a man still searching for identity, hoping one day to be reconnected with his long-lost father. Then the day finally arrives, as Ego (Kurt Russell) enters into the frame. But with Star-Lord off striving to form a relationship with the only thing he now has left of his mother, other than his awesome mix-tape, of course – the rest are relying on former foes to help protect the entire galaxy – again.
The first film, though revelling in the tropes of the archetypal blockbuster movie – felt unique, the way it blended its irreverent comedy with its emotional core, complete with an indelible soundtrack – and it felt the only way to emulate that would be to do it all over again, which can be a tough thing to get right, without contrivance, anyway. But Gunn has pulled it off, and it helps that we can get right into the thick of the action without the lengthy introduction. We now who these guys are now, their foibles and respective character arcs, and with that established knowledge we can hit the ground running, and the film is all the better for it.
Visually this picture is a spectacle, so vibrant and frenetic, and yet never overbearing. But its what plays out in front of the landscape which counts, and yet again we’re treated to an immersive narrative and a host of characters we believe and care for. It’s a masterclass in writing, for there’s so many different people/aliens we have to invest in, and yet it comes so seamlessly. Every individual part has their own development, nuanced and well-rounded, which is not a simple thing to get right in ensemble pieces of this nature. Drax is the stand out, equipped with the majority of the film’s finest, most deadpan one-liners, while a special mention must be reserved for Baby Groot for being so goddam adorable. But the star performer is Michael Rooker, blessed with a multi-faceted role in Yondu, bringing such subtlety to the part, in spite of the grandiose environment.
Yet again another contributing factor as to why this sequel is so engaging and exhilarating, is the fantastic soundtrack, enriching so many scenes, used as much of a plot-device as they simply to make the action sequences appear more cool. Though despite the music, the visuals and the breathtaking action on offer – this film works because it’s human. There may be aliens adorning the screen, but it’s the relatable themes that we resonate with that make the difference, and allows for this film to flourish. It’s one thing to merely excel in being extravagant and entertaining, but another to inject a sense of profundity into proceedings – and it’s this what turns a good blockbuster, into a great one.