Can it recapture the magic? The intergalactic misadventure of Guardians of The Galaxy was such a fresh surprise in 2014 that a bunch of characters barely known even by comics readers managed to charm the whole world into giving director James Gunn a sequel. That kind of newness is by definition impossible to recapture, so Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has its work cut out for it: maintain the uniqueness set the first apart, when that’s what everyone’s expecting it to do.
The method Gunn, who also wrote the script (after sharing a credit with Nicole Perlman on the first), uses is to change up the structure somewhat. Instead of running around the galaxy the whole time, characters stay relatively put. After a first act establishing why various foes are after them, the movie spends most of its time split between Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista) on a planet belonging to Quill’s father Ego (Kurt Russell, who is now in everything again), and Rocket and Groot, who are stuck on a ship where they’ve been captured.
Cutting between A, B, and C plots like a sitcom, Vol. 2 approaches things more like a character piece than the adventure of the first. Family is they key here: Quill spends most of his time trying to bond with the father he’s been waiting for all his life, which, while a strong enough piece of story, comes at the expense of separating him from the rest of the cast (which is where he really shines). Gamora’s relationship with her murderous sister, returning antagonist Nebula (Karen Gillan) is more successful, and provides one of the movie’s most effective emotional chunks.
Which is the strength and weakness of Guardians 2: the strongest character arcs go to the (blue-skinned) side characters. Gamora’s arc is really about Nebula, and Rocket’s is really about returning space buccaneer Yondu (Michael Rooker). Sure, everyone’s still great, but after getting us so invested in the team the first time around, the sequel feels less like their next chapter and more like an in-between arcs episode.
The sitcominess’ real worst part isn’t plot though, it’s visual. While there’s even more fun camera work this time around, something strange has happened: the way the alien worlds are shot makes it hard to actually see them. Setting the tone for what follows, the movie begins on a world ran by a race of literal gold people bred to be genetically perfect, but we barely get a sense of what that that world actually looks like, as all the scenes take place either indoors, or on a roof that gives little view of the rest. Ego’s planet is further explored, but no one actually lives there, making this movie’s galaxy less expansive and vibrant than the first’s.
While it’s commendable to try to go smaller and dive more into character drama, some of the sense of adventure and weirdness that made the first feel so big and cosmic gets lost. It’s still a ton of fun, and the emotional weight of the finale almost makes up for it’s weaknesses, but where Guardians of The Galaxy was a surprisingly great joy, Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is just a very enjoyable sequel.