Ask any band and they’ll back me up on this, success will either make or break you!
While there’s no denying that Marvel Studios were already a powerhouse by 2014, especially in the wake of 2012’s Avengers, even the most confident executives must have been a tad gun-shy prior to the release and astonishing success of the original Guardians of the Galaxy.
Despite the dependability of the Marvel brand, there were so many unknown variables that could have tripped the film up.
Think of it!
A space opera based on a little-known comic book series that spends a grand total of 3 minutes and 52 seconds on Earth, starring a relatively unknown sitcom star, with the maker of such twisted, subversive fare as Slither (2006) and Super (2010) at the helm?
On paper, audiences should have shunned the film in droves. We’re constantly being reminded what familiarity junkies we are, after all.
Luckily for everyone Guardians of the Galaxy had the courage of its convictions and launched itself at the box office with all the ill-advised bravado of its eponymous heroes.
Grounded by a cheerfully nostalgic soundtrack, earnest performances and an irrepressible sense of humour, the film took audiences by the hand and whisked them away on a whirlwind tour of the great beyond. We may have come for the stellar visual effects, gorgeous environments and bewitching design, but we stayed for the wit, the heart and the relationships.
Earning a colossal $773,328,629 globally, the film helped to expand and re-define the parameters of what a Marvel film could be. It showed the studio just how far audiences were willing to go with them and paved the way for future cosmic and / or supernatural entries into the Marvel canon like Doctor Strange (2016), Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and of course Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Perhaps that little assurance at the end of the film “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” should have shown us just how confident the studio and director were with the finished product.
Which brings us to… That difficult second album.
As strong as the marketing for the film was, playing even more upon its predecessor’s musical lineage with the above teaser poster, I can’t deny that part of me feared a ‘sophomore slump’. It wouldn’t have been Marvel Studios’ first or even its second.
It took less than five minutes for my fears to be completely assuaged as a scene of beautifully realised character drama gave way to an intricate and phenomenally detailed action sequence.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 does what the best sequels do. It expands its mythology outwards, incorporating new characters, locales and plot elements while exploring the familiar in greater depths and casting known characters in a new light.
That really old movie, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is quite probably Hollywood’s best example of this theorem and there are a few subtle (and one or two less-than subtle) nods to the Star Wars film here.
The first Guardians had impressive locations but its successor’s are utterly breathtaking. Digital matte paintings have come so far in the past decade and never before (even in really, really good sci-fi films) have alien environments looked as tactile and accessible, despite being completely outlandish and exotic.
The visual effects and creature designs (somehow) outshine those of the original, bristling with personality and character. Baby Groot is the most obvious example of this; his guileless charm is wrought in wonderfully realised expressions and motions that are sure to break the hearts of audiences everywhere. That said, there’s also a noticeable forward step in Rocket’s range of expression and motion with the beligerent trash panda providing further evidence that he may well be one of the galaxies foremost badasses.
Those familiar with Abnett and Lanning’s classic run on the GotG comic (from which both films draw most of their inspiration) will be happy to see the empath Mantis on the roster, with Canadian actress Pom Klementieff providing a childishly naive performance that sets her up as the brunt of a dozen jokes from the jaded Guardians.
One of the great mysteries of the original film was the parentage of Peter Quill and James Gunn was adamant from the start that Starlord’s father would not be his comic book sire J’Son of Spartax and after years of fan speculation the film showcases just how perfect a choice Kurt Russell as Ego was. His chemistry with Chris Pratt is absolutely spot-on and leads to some scenes of real dramatic weight between the two.
Speaking of Pratt, while he brings his boy-next-door charm to the party in spades, the narrative affords him more opportunity to stretch his legs in terms of acting range than he’s been offered in most previous roles.
The character of Meredith Quill, Peter’s late mother has always been most notable by her absence but it’s nice to see Laura Haddock return here in a brief flashback scene that demonstrates not only Ms Quill’s love of music but just how easy a character must be to fall in love with.
Zoe Saldana also gives yet another masterful yet understated performance as Gamora and one of the film’s most treasured gems is the further development of her relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
The blue skinned daughter of Thanos gets a nice new trajectory to her character arc, as does the Kree ravager Yondu played by the ever-charismatic Michael Rooker.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2‘s greatest triumph isn’t in its action, its visuals or even its wit. Its greatest triumph is how well it functions as a love story, an exploration of parental, familial, platonic and indeed romantic love.
There’s more to say on those matters, so much more, but you owe it to yourself to avoid spoilers.
Needless to say we’ll be discussing the film in exhaustive detail in next week’s podcast.
Until then, please get in touch with your feelings on the latest entry into the MCU!