I’ve been developing a theory over the past few years. It still needs further research, but it seems to hold true. You can tell a film will be exceptional or exceptionally poor based on the creativity of the opening credits. The opening credits of GotG2 is a great example of this. The team has assembled to battle an interdimensional beast on the behalf of the “Sovereigns”, a race of elitist that are so pretentious even their skin is gold. The Guardians are ready for battles, weapons at the ready, speakers almost hooked up, “so we can have some tunes while we fight!” The beast arrives and Baby Groot begins gleefully dancing around the arena. This sequence is so beautifully perfect it is almost worth the price of admission alone. It masterfully showcases everything that makes both films so special. Each of them is emotionally damaged, but despite the almost constant bickering, they cling to their patchwork family unit desperately. Groot once again represents the most emotionally pure of them all, even if he is a baby this time around. His youthful wonder and innocence is such a treat to behold. Too often the characters in superhero/sci-fi films fail to marvel at the wonder around them.
Considering how universally loved the first film was, there’s a lot of excitement regarding the release of Vol. 2. But along with that excitement comes apprehension. How could it possibly compare to the unique magic of its predecessor? The list of sequels that were as good, or better, than the one that spawned it is small indeed. Rest assured, if you enjoyed the first one, you will almost certainly enjoy this one as well. Whether or not you consider it as good, or better, will depend specifically on what elements of the Guardians you most enjoy.
Smartly, Vol 2 doesn’t try to rehash the same beats of the first film. The parts are all the same, but they are assembled together into a very different movie, one that focuses far more on characters and their fragile identities. For a superhero flick, there’s a surprising number of tears. There’s a common critique that movies of this nature never take the time to fully delve into fleshing out their characters. That is not an issue here. Some of the dialog may be a bit too on the nose, and moments of emotion tensions a bit too melodramatic, but on a whole, it works as a refreshing departure from the status quo. There’s a price to be paid for this character development though. To be effective the pace of their adventures has been slowed down. After the first 20 minutes, all the action really occurs in only two locations, one being a massive, sentient planet known as “Ego” (Kurt Russell) But just because the pace has slowed, does not mean that it’s any less of a spectacle. There are still numerous battles, impressive set pieces, and glorious visuals. Ego itself is a wonder of artistic design, combining cues from Egyptian, Roman, and organic 60’s styling.
To help balance the heavy emotional arcs, James Gunn has boosted the humor this time around. The jokes come flying fast and furious, again employing a full comedic range from basic slapstick to nostalgic Earth references from a man who was last there as a 10-year-old boy. There’s even one moment of pure comic-book silliness that practically breaks the tonal balance, but perhaps it’s a good addition as it will allow the youth in the audience a gleeful laugh after they’ve all shed a few tears over the woes of their beloved Guardians.
It should also be noted that Vol. 2 takes full advantage of its PG-13 rating. There isn’t any nudity or F-bombs, but the body count is likely one of the highest in the MCU. Some of the deaths could be disturbing for younger viewers. That said, without a doubt, it has the most heart of any of the MCU films.
Note: There are a number of scenes that are so epic in scale that seeing in true Imax 3d should be a priority.