It almost goes without saying that sequels are never as good as the movie they’re following up. While true with films in general, this seems to be especially true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s not to say that any of them have been especially bad, just that, in comparison to how exceptional the first outings for our new favorite heroes seem to be, the second time around can’t help but be a letdown.
Iron Man is fondly remembered as the movie that kickstarted the entire mega-franchise in the first place, while its follow-up, Iron Man 2, is remembered as the nearest thing that it’s come to an outright failure. While Age of Ultron was one of the best blockbusters of the year when it came out, it never-the-less failed to live up to the impossibly high standards of the first movie.
The only film that bucked this trend was The Winter Soldier, which found a context so implausibly perfect for a character literally draped in the American flag that it shook the foundations of the entire franchise to its core, before repeating this miraculous trick last year with Civil War. Still, it serves to prove the rule: Marvel loses sight of the straight-and-narrow in the wake of their initial success, only to swing back around for the third movie (see also: Iron Man 3 and Thor: Ragnarok).
That’s to say nothing of the miracle of keeping these franchises running as smoothly or as long as they have been. Most franchises can’t even live down the success of their first film and quickly succumb to diminishing returns (Superman, Alien, Independence Day, etc..).
So when I say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 bucks this trend and not only recaptures what lighting-in-a-bottle it managed in 2014, but builds off of it in ways that make it feel far more complex and interesting than its predecessor, understand the totality of that statement. Vol. 2 isn’t just good, it’s Vol. 1 good. It’s good enough to overcome the lack of newness inherent to a sequel.
In the aftermath of saving Xandar from Ronan the Accuser, the Guardians of the Galaxy have been busy: securing lucrative security contracts and bounties off their proven ability to take down the galaxy’s biggest threats. But when Rocket steals from their most recent employer, they swear to hunt the team down to the ends of the universe to even the scales of justice.
When staring down the business end of a fleet of war ships, they’re inexplicably saved by Ego: a man claiming to be Starlord’s long lost father. While Rocket and Groot fix their damaged ship, Starlord, Gamora and Drax go with Ego to his planet on the other side of the galaxy. But Gamora can’t shake the feeling that something about Ego isn’t right, that something sinister lurks beneath the surface of his seemingly perfect world.
The genius of Vol. 2 is that it never tries to reinvent the wheel. So while we do watch the Guardians save the galaxy a second time over, it never tries to one-up the climax of the first film. In fact, by comparison, Vol. 2 feels like a much smaller film: with fewer locations, less explosions and more intimate character moments threaded throughout its emotionally-charged narrative.
The heart of the movie isn’t an army or an infinity stone, but Starlord’s relationship with his father: both his biological father (Ego) and his adopted one (Yondu). The final confrontation with Ego, despite its implications for the rest of the Galaxy and the threat it poses to our motley cast of characters, is the culmination of a far more personal vendetta. It’s a superpowered bar brawl in the name of good old fashioned revenge.
The focus is less on the action set pieces and the electric shootouts as it is on giving the characters more time to interact with one another. We watch Starlord stumble over his feelings for Gamora, Rocket play mommy with Groot and Yondu spit some hard truths are characters desperate to hear them. While I’m still not entirely convinced of the necessity of Mantis to the film, giving Drax somebody just as fun to interact with as himself more than makes up for it.
It was always a given that Vol. 2 was going to be good, but it is truly impressive at just how good it managed while losing out the blind-siding freshness that made the first movie so delightful in the first place. It is in every respect a superior production to the first Guardians of the Galaxy and a must-see for the summer season. Even if the whole superhero craze is starting to lose its flavor for you, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is different enough and far enough removed from the rest of the Marvel franchises to still be worth your time.
Buy on BluRay: The second it comes out.
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