Cue the Music: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

James Gunn crafts a deeply flawed film, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which digs deep into daddy issues, is still entertaining, visually gorgeous, and likable.


Android Face by bluebudgie (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

“He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.” – Yondu to Peter Quill

Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014) was a complete surprise, the unlikeliest blockbuster. The film adapted a recent reboot of a little-known comic-book property featuring colourful cosmic settings, irreverent humour, and a team with two green characters — a talking raccoon, and a walking tree. It was also very well-made and incredibly enjoyable, which elevated it above its expected niche appeal to turn the likes of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot into household names.

But fundamentally, Guardians of the Galaxy was a conventional team-gathering mission movie, only with many unconventional elements. Co-writer and director James Gunn emerged as a strong collaborator with Marvel Studios, someone who was able to work within Marvel’s system and still retain some of his unique cinematic voice. Joss Whedon was another strong Marvel collaborator, having retained his distinctive voice while perfecting the superhero film formula in The Avengers (2012). But even Whedon chafed under Marvel’s authority on his imperfect follow-up, 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Similar creative conflicts were rumoured behind the scenes of Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010), Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013) and Ant-Man (Reed, 2015). Marvel Studios was gaining a reputation for giving lesser-known or less-experienced directors a chance to direct big-budget blockbusters, but then insisting on heavy collaboration and compromise. This attitude was a threat to everything that made Guardians of the Galaxy special as the filmmakers moved towards a sequel.

By the time Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Gunn, 2017) entered production, however, there was a subtle shift for the better at Marvel Studios. It was the first of several bold, subversive films from filmmakers that didn’t seem forced to compromise with the studio. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017) and Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) indicate that Marvel Studios had turned a corner with respect to the creative power of directors. But what led to the shift? Why was the studio that soured relations with Whedon, that drove Patti Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright from Ant-Man over creative differences, suddenly so willing to relinquish some creative control? Some argue that the massive success of the first two “phases” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) had given the studio the confidence to take more chances. I believe this to be part or all of the reason. Others argue that it has everything to do with Ike Perlmutter.

Perlmutter has been involved with Marvel Entertainment since 1993. His background is in the toy industry, but he gradually gained more control over the company, becoming the CEO of Marvel Comics in 2005. To his credit, following this appointment Marvel Comics surged in popularity and market share for several years, and Marvel Studios was launched. However, Perlmutter has also been blamed for some of the worst aspects of Marvel Studios productions.

As CEO Perlmutter had authority over Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige. Fiege has been credited with some of the best aspects of the MCU over the years, including the basic idea and structure of a sprawling shared cinematic universe. Perlmutter is rumoured to have stifled female characterization and diversity in MCU films. His fiscally-minded approach was responsible for salary disputes on early films, including the contract-breaking replacement of Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2. He reportedly insisted plots be over-explained, and was behind most filmmaker interference and disputes.

Frustrated with Fox owning the cinematic rights to the X-Men, Perlmutter insisted on the Inhumans replacing the X-Men both in comics and in the MCU. By 2015, he had become the MCU bogeyman, blamed for every questionable behind-the-scenes decision, while Feige was praised for every success. It seems a bit neat to portray Perlmutter as the devil and Feige as the angel of Marvel Studios, but this is the information that is available. Also, I and every Marvel fan have endless respect for Kevin Feige.

Regardless, in late-2015 Feige expressed frustration to Disney Studio head Alan Horn about Perlmutter’s oversight, and Horn restructured Marvel Entertainment. From then on, Feige answered directly to Horn, and Perlmutter no longer had oversight of Marvel Studios. The last film he directly influenced was Doctor Strange (Derrickson, 2016), making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the first MCU film produced without Perlmutter’s allegedly toxic influence.

Readers, cue-up Spotify…


(courtesy of Amazon)

Guardians 2 was announced, with Gunn writing and directing, at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2014. This was weeks before the first film was released, indicating a well-placed confidence in that film’s success. As was the new Marvel Studios approach, Gunn was given the freedom to shape the film however he liked. Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy began as a screenplay by Nicole Perlman, which Gunn rewrote before directing, Gunn is the sole credited screenwriter on Guardians 2.

Gunn’s freedom and confidence are fully apparent in his approach to the film, for better or worse. He intended to go deeper into the characters, rather than expand to a bigger, more sprawling scale. He set the sequel mere months after the first film, whereas most MCU films tend to be set at the time of their release. He included almost no references to the larger MCU. This last decision was especially surprising, given the film was expected to include major story elements in advance of the massive crossover event film Avengers: Infinity War (Russo Brothers, 2018) one year later.

Gunn’s boldest act of all, however, was creating a comic-book blockbuster that casually meanders from scene to scene, character to character, with very little propulsion of plot. Again, the first Guardians was a fairly conventional story with highly unconventional elements. Given the confidence and freedom to do whatever he wanted with the sequel, Gunn made it unconventional through and through.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has shockingly little plot, putting nearly all of its emphasis on the growth of its characters and the development of their relationships. The main villain’s plan is not even revealed until two-thirds of the way through. Prior to that, there are plot-like incidents and developments, but mostly scenes of characters hanging out and interacting. It’s the kind of superhero hangout film hinted at by the fantastic party scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but with a bit more action. It mostly consists of the kind of formless meandering for which I criticized X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016), but with fewer characters, more focus and better writing.

In Guardians 2, there are times when big epic battles are occurring and the camera purposely avoids it. At those times, the film instead focuses on a dancing baby tree, or a conversation about buttons and tape. Plot is actively avoided until its final act, and even then the action is undercut at every turn. All of this meandering is presented with Gunn’s characteristic irreverent humour and another banging, ’70s-centric soundtrack. The result is a completely unique superhero blockbuster that should not work as well as it does.

That is because there’s a major risk in Gunn’s approach, which likely sinks the film for some viewers. There’s no strong plot. The focus is on characters and relationships but, honestly, that material is hit-or-miss. The humour holds the film together, but is not everyone’s taste. So ultimately, one’s enjoyment of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 depends entirely on how much one enjoys the characters and humour of the film. I absolutely adore these characters and enjoy Gunn’s humour, making the film incredibly enjoyable despite its glaring flaws. I’m so caught up in the colourful visuals, expertly-curated soundtrack, and hilarity, to notice the lack of plot or uneven character work. I appreciate that the film even works at all, a cinematic miracle.

For viewers who are not as taken with the characters, the humour or the visuals, the flaws will be much more evident and I cannot dispute their criticisms. To each their own. To me, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a strange, unconventional film about strange, unconventional characters, but it’s mostly just a wonderfully good time.

The story opens in Missouri, 1980, with Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and Ego (a brilliantly de-aged Kurt Russell) driving through the countryside, singing along to the radio. Meredith cannot believe that she fell in love with a “spaceman”. Ego takes her to a forest behind a Dairy Queen to show her the strange, glowing seed that he has planted. That is not the only seed he plants, however. Thirty-four years later, long after Ego leaves and Meredith dies of brain cancer, their son, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), is a Guardian of the Galaxy.

The team is on the home planet of The Sovereign, hired to protect valuable batteries from an interdimensional beast. Gunn set to film this scene just a few months after the first in order to revisit the team soon after its formation, when they are not yet comfortable as teammates. He also wanted to keep Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, with his voice pitched high) as an adorable baby tree. The scene throws viewers right back into the funny banter that made the first film so special.

Drax (Dave Bautista) refuses to wear a flying rig like his teammates because his nipples are too sensitive. Peter feels self-conscious that Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is using a gun for the battle (his forté) rather than her usual sword. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, portrayed on set by Sean Gunn) wastes time setting up speakers to listen to music as they battle. The giant, tentacled beast arrives through an interdimensional rift breathing multicoloured fire, Rocket blares E.L.O. from the speakers, and the battle is joined. And then, very purposefully, the camera pans away from the massive battle to follow Baby Groot as he dances during the opening credits.

This opening credits sequence perfectly encapsulates Gunn’s unconventional approach to
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. There is a big blockbuster comic-book narrative occurring around the edges of this film, but that’s rarely the central focus. Returning heroes battling a giant monster is exactly the kind of opening sequence one might expect from this kind of sequel, but the battle occurs mostly off-camera or out-of-focus in the background. Groot just dances away, occasionally interacting with the others as they are thrown towards him, or when they stop him from doing something dangerous, as if they are his cautious parents.

The film’s message is clear from the outset. These character moments are important. The humour and the music are important. The fun is important. The typical action and plot are considerably less important. Eventually, the speakers are smashed, ending the credits and the dancing, and the team finishes off the threat. This is, again, an encapsulation of the film. Like the battle that is mostly ignored until the very end,
Guardians 2 will meander through character set-pieces for 90-minutes until it finally decides to focus on the main villain plot for the final 30-minutes or so. If the characters were less likable, or the film less enjoyable, it would be an interminable failure. Thankfully, after watching countless big-budget blockbusters I was perfectly happy to watch a baby tree dance for a few minutes rather than a superteam fight another generic CGI monster. A lot of viewers agreed with me.

After the battle, the Guardians meet with the leader of the Sovereign, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to receive thanks for protecting the batteries. They are also given Nebula (Karen Gillan), who was held captive by the Sovereign. Like Gamora, Nebula is an adopted daughter of Thanos, trained to be a ruthless warrior. She escaped from the climactic battle in the first film, and the Guardians plan to trade her to the authorities to collect a bounty. The gold-skinned Sovereign are haughty and vaguely-insulting, so Rocket steals some of the batteries before they leave.

As they fly away, it’s clear that Peter is trying unsuccessfully to start a romantic relationship with Gamora. As Drax sees it, Peter is someone who dances and Gamora is not, so they are not right for each other. Their ship soon comes under attack from the Sovereign fleet, in which each ship is piloted remotely from a neat arcade-like building. Peter and Rocket argue over who is the better pilot, and their bickering nearly gets the ship destroyed as they fly through a “quantum asteroid field”. All of this is very fun, with great visuals, funny banter and entertaining characters.

Then, Ego appears riding atop his ship and destroys the Sovereign fleet. The Guardians make it to an interstellar warp gate, which transports them to a forest planet for a crash landing. The warp gates are casually established as a way to quickly move from place to place across the galaxy, and they come in handy in later MCU films. Rocket and Peter continue to bicker until Ego lands his ship and identifies himself as Peter’s father.

There’s a very significant cut to Yondu (Michael Rooker). Yondu leads his own team of pirate-like Ravagers. The first film establishes that he was hired by Peter’s father to abduct Peter from Earth. Rather than delivering Peter to Ego, however, Yondu somewhat abusively raised him as a Ravager. Yondu and his team are revelling in a brothel until Stakar (Sylvester Stallone), another Ravager captain, criticizes Yondu for past mistakes. He reveals that Yondu was exiled from the larger community for breaking their code. The interaction leads some of Yondu’s team to question his leadership.

Soon after, Ayesha approaches Yondu to find the Guardians and recover the stolen batteries. Meanwhile, Ego invites Peter back to his planet to catch up, but Peter struggles with the emotional scars of growing up with an absentee father. He told other kids that his father was actor David Hasselhoff. Gamora encourages him to go with Ego.

And so, the main cast splits up. Peter, Gamora and Drax join Ego and his companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), to go to Ego’s planet. Rocket and Groot remain behind to guard Nebula and fix the ship. Rocket continues to throw barbs as his friends leave, leading Peter to ask if he is purposely trying to be unlikeable. On Ego’s ship, Peter, Drax, Gamora and Mantis just hang out as Ego sleeps. They discuss Mantis’ ability to feel or change people’s emotions through contact. Mostly, though, it’s just characters hanging out, kicking off the meandering approach of the rest of the film.

The main villain plot, involving Ego, his relationship to Peter, and his larger plans, is revealed much later. The threat of the Sovereign coming after the Guardians is mostly kept to the background. The other sort-of plot regards a mutiny on Yondu’s ship, which involves Rocket, Groot and Nebula for the middle section of the film. But calling any of these “plots” is a stretch. They are elements at play in the film causing incidents that the characters must confront. But they are mostly relegated to the margins or, in the case of Ego’s plot, saved until the climax. The film instead focuses on character relationships.

Unfortunately, given their focus in the film, the character dynamics are fairly hit-or-miss. Peter and Gamora have a will they/won’t they romance, called out by Peter when he compares them to Sam and Diane on Cheers. This comparison is outdated, because Peter was abducted in 1988, and confuses Gamora, who is not from Earth. Their feelings for each other are mostly unspoken, leaving the relationship feeling undercooked. Peter and Rocket’s competitive conflict is similarly undercooked because, after some crackling early scenes, they are separated for much of the film. Drax and Mantis form a relationship around the running gag of Drax constantly insulting Mantis, which I never particularly enjoy.

The Rocket and Yondu relationship that emerges in the middle section is far more successful, with both the two characters relating over intentional unlikeability. Also successful is the Gamora and Nebula relationship. They are adoptive sisters, pitted against each other throughout their childhood by their adopted father, Thanos. The arc of sisters bonding over shared past abuse and overcoming it to form a meaningful relationship is great, but they are not given much screen-time. The Gamora/Nebula relationship is only included to underscore the central relationship and theme of the film.

Peter was abandoned by his real father, Ego, before he was born, and Ego now returns to manipulate him. Peter was raised by Yondu, an abusive jerk who nonetheless loved Peter as best he could. The theme of the film is the impact of abusive fathers, and overcoming the trauma meted out by those fathers. The theme unites Peter, Gamora and Nebula. Unfortunately, Peter and Yondu are separated until the climax, and Yondu never directly interacts with Ego. So, even though the central Peter/Yondu/Ego relationship emotionally sticks the landing, its impact is slightly blunted.

The Ravagers close in on Rocket and the ship. But Rocket has booby-trapped the nearby forest, and gleefully takes out the intruders with his devices. He’s soon cornered by Yondu, but rather than capture the Guardians, as Ayesha wanted, Yondu plans to sell the batteries for profit. This is a step too far for his crew. Kraglin (Sean Gunn) criticizes Yondu’s favouritism of Peter, and Taserface (Chris Sullivan) calls for a mutiny,while Nebula takes charge of the group.

On the Ravager ship, the pirates torture poor Baby Groot and throw Yondu’s loyal crew members into space. Rocket, meanwhile, mocks Taserface’s frankly inexplicable decision to refer to himself as “Taserface”. Nebula demands that the Ravagers sell Yondu and Rocket to their enemies, then she takes a ship to find and kill Gamora. As they await their fate, Yondu and Rocket begin to bond over their pathological insistence on being jerks. This subplot exists to humble Yondu and force him to connect with Rocket. Incidents only occur in the film to facilitate deeper exploration of the characters. The plot is typically paramount in blockbusters, but here it is just a means to an end.

The rest of the characters land on Ego’s planet, which is a gorgeously-realized, rainbow paradise. Colourful bubbles float through the air, lush vegetation covers the ground and the architecture is classical and calming. In other words, it seems too good to be true. Ego reveals that he is a Celestial, an ancient cosmic being. He began as essentially a brain in space, but gradually learned to manipulate his environment enough to create the planet around himself. Ego the Living Planet was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee for Thor in 1966, right in the midst of a trippy, creatively fertile time at Marvel Comics. Instead of a face on the side of a planet, as in the comics, the film explains that Ego created a human-looking avatar of himself, played by Kurt Russell, to explore other life in the universe. And, because Drax asks outright, we also learn that Ego created a penis for himself.

He found other life, fell in love with Peter’s mother and conceived a child. But he needed to return to the planet to recharge his energy, and could not bring himself to return to Earth after Meredith died.

Russell does well in the role, selling the regretful father aspect of the character and downplaying any sinister underpinnings. Russell agreed to play Ego in part because he connected to Pratt’s portrayal of Peter in the first film, which definitely had shades of ’80s Kurt Russell swagger. Peter also learns that, as a half-Celestial, he can draw energy from the planet. He creates a ball of energy and, in a hilariously on-the-nose moment, plays a game of catch with his father. The only hint of danger comes from Mantis’ apprehensiveness, but that is largely offset by Drax constantly insulting her. This section of the film is pretty formless, with the characters just hanging out and talking.

Back on the Ravager ship, Rocket and Yondu convince Groot to retrieve a prototype fin for the top of Yondu’s head. The fin will give Yondu the ability control his incredibly powerful flying arrow just by whistling. Being very young, Groot misunderstands their instructions. He retrieves Yondu’s underwear, a weird alien creature, a prosthetic eye, a severed toe, and a whole desk. The relaxed tone allows the comedy room to breathe and play out, making this sequence hilarious. If a viewer doesn’t buy into the humour, however, it might seem tedious.

Ultimately, Kraglin regrets his role in sparking the mutiny and brings the fin. Yondu puts it on, which matches his comic book appearance much more closely. What follows is a beautifully-choreographed, cartoonishly-violent massacre of everyone on the ship. While it must be stated that dozens of people are killed in the sequence, the fun and inventiveness distract from the carnage. A Spanish-tinged ’60s pop hit plays throughout the ship, as the camera speed slows down or speeds up from moment to moment. Yondu, Rocket and Groot make their way along the catwalk to the ship’s control centre as bodies rain down around them in slow-motion. Yondu then uses the control centre video screens to direct his arrow to anyone he has missed.

The visuals are interesting, the deaths are inventive and the music is peppy, all making the massacre feel like, well, fun. Before he dies, Taserface alerts the Sovereign to Yondu’s location (and the Sovereign also laugh at his name). Then Yondu detaches part of the ship to fly it to Ego’s planet. They begin making hundreds of very fast portal jumps through space, which is a huge strain and hilariously distorts everyone’s face as they go.

On Ego, Gamora has grown suspicious of their host but Peter has no doubts. Peter’s newfound devotion to his father threatens to alienate him from his friends, but that threat is only hinted at in the film. Instead, Peter and Gamora argue over whether they have unspoken feelings for each other, and Gamora storms out to contact Rocket. As a character, Peter feels a bit sidelined at this point in the film. Gunn is not quite ready to introduce Ego’s heel-turn, leaving Peter with nothing to do.

Out in a field, Nebula arrives with her ship and tries to blast Gamora. This type of sequence would typically be shot from inside the ship looking down on Gamora, but I appreciate how Gunn shoots it mostly from Gamora’s perspective on the ground. It becomes a sci-fi version of the crop-duster scene from North By Northwest (Hitchcock, 1959). Nebula crashes and the women briefly fight to a standstill. Nebula is angry that Gamora never let her win fights as a child, increasing her own esteem while Thanos slowly installed cybernetic implants into Nebula. Some viewers criticized how quickly the characters move from fighting to reconciling, but it works for me. Gamora and Nebula never hated each other, but they were forced to compete by an awful father. Once they can see that, reconciliation is much easier.

Speaking of awful fathers, two-thirds of the way into the film, Ego’s plot finally moves forward. He explains that Peter is immortal so long as Ego’s planet exists and that their combined power can manifest Ego’s master plan. Ego didn’t just impregnate Peter’s mother, but thousands of women across the galaxy. He hired Yondu to bring him the children one at a time to test them for Celestial power. Transporting children is against the Ravager code, and that is why Yondu was exiled. No child exhibited any Celestial powers, and Ego killed them. When Yondu discovered this, he kept Peter away. Ironically, Peter is the first to have the power Ego needs. Together, they can grow seeds that Ego planted across the galaxy, taking over every planet and making them an outgrowth of Ego himself. Ego will become the entire galaxy.

At the same time, Mantis reveals Ego’s secret to Drax, and Nebula and Gamora discover the remains of Ego’s other children. Ego demands that Peter let go of his emotional attachments to help and, excited by the power, Peter initially agrees. Just to be clear, Peter, ostensibly the hero of the film, agrees to help his father kill trillions of people to earn his absentee father’s approval. He only snaps out of it when Ego, overconfident, confesses to giving Meredith brain cancer. He killed her to prevent his love for her getting in the way of his plans. Peter snaps out of it and shoots Ego. A lot. But Ego reconstitutes himself, first into David Hasselhoff then back into Kurt Russell.

Everything has been a seduction of Peter, but Ego is finished. He forcibly siphons Peter’s power and destroys his Walkman. This is the big villain plot of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, revealed 90-minutes in. Having been sidelined for much of the film, Peter’s initial willingness to help Ego’s plan is shocking. His attempts to connect with his absentee father is emotionally credible, however. Rocket, Groot and Yondu arrive, and the stage is set for the climax in which the Guardians must kill Ego.

The team saves Peter, and everyone piles into one ship to drill to the centre of Ego’s planet. They need to break into the super-dense core that houses Ego’s brain to blow it up. Just then, a fleet of Sovereign ships also arrive. A huge battle erupts but, true to form, the film doesn’t care about the conventional blockbuster climax. While the fight occurs outside the core, the story pauses for Rocket to show Groot how to arm the bomb that will blow up Ego’s brain. They go over this several times, and Groot insists on pressing the wrong button. Rocket then asks Peter for some tape to cover the wrong button, and we hear Peter flying through the battle in the background asking different characters if they have tape.

Gunn was obliged, despite the meandering pace of the film, to include a major action climax, but this sequence demonstrates that he wasn’t interested in showing it fully. The fact that 95% of the battle with the Sovereign occurs off-screen is hilarious and subversive.

Ultimately, Groot runs with the bomb toward Ego’s brain, the Sovereign ships are all destroyed, but so is the heroes’ ship. The Sovereign could have been mistaken for the primary antagonists of the film before Ego’s heel-turn, but they are quickly brushed aside in the climax. They were just a means to push the characters into dangerous situations and allow some action to occur, but the film isn’t really interested in them.

As the Guardians’ ship explodes, Yondu saves Peter by holding on to his flying arrow as it gently lets them down. Peter says that he looks like Mary Poppins, and Yondu asks if Mary Poppins is cool. Peter, looking admiringly at Yondu, says yes. This leads Yondu to shout enthusiastically “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” The heroes all land and pose heroically, until a piece of debris falls on Mantis. This is the kind of undercutting of heroic moments that was common, and hilarious, in Guardians of the Galaxy. In Guardians 2, it’s not individual moments but the entire structure that undercuts conventional blockbusters.

Unfortunately, Mantis was using her power to keep Ego asleep as the battle raged, but the debris knocks her out. Ego awakens and attacks. Peter and Yondu stay behind to fight, but the planet devours everyone. “The Chain” played earlier, as the Guardians contentiously split up on different missions, plays again here as Peter experiences flashes of happy memories with his mother, Rocket, Yondu, Drax and Gamora. He uses his deep connection to everyone to draw power from the planet and fight back against Ego.

“You shouldn’t have killed my mom and broken my Walkman,” Peter yells, making one wonder which upsets him more. Ego and Peter fly around like supermen until Ego constructs a giant rock version of himself and Peter counters with a giant rock Pac-Man, which is very funny. Ultimately, Groot plants the bomb on Ego’s brain and it explodes. The planet starts crumbling.

Yondu has one flight pack and one space suit. He attaches the space suit to Peter to protect him, then uses the flight pack to fly them into space. Yondu says “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.” And then, having gotten Peter to safety, Yondu dies in the cold of space. The moment is crushing. Michael Rooker does fantastic work in the film. His evolution from secondary villain/uneasy ally in the first film to the emotional and thematic core of the second film is one of Gunn’s most unconventional choices.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about abusive fathers and coming to terms with traumatic childhoods. Gunn claims that he could have told a similar story of Yondu and Ego with an abusive stepfather in Brooklyn and a rich, manipulative absentee Wall Street father. The approach to this relationship is unquestionably flawed because of limited character interaction. Yondu and Peter are separate for most of the film, Yondu and Ego never interact, and Peter is sidelined as the film meanders through the middle section. But Gunn sticks the landing so perfectly, with such resonance, that all the flaws fade away.

Ego was Peter’s real father, but he was a manipulative jerk who only wanted to use Peter for his genocidal plan. Yondu was not a good father, but he still raised and cared for Peter. At the end of the day, Ego tried to kill Peter while Yondu died saving Peter’s life.

The dénouement wraps it up with Yondu’s funeral. Nebula leaves to kill Thanos, but shares a hug with Gamora before she goes. Peter gives Yondu’s arrow to Kraglin, and Kraglin gives him Earth’s exciting new music device, the Zune, which holds 300 songs!! Peter implicitly comes to terms with Gamora and Rocket. Gamora refers to her “unspoken thing” with Peter, while Rocket describes Yondu’s mistakes as a way to apologize for his own. And then the other Ravagers arrive in their ships, putting aside Yondu’s exile to honour him in death.

Beside Stakar, the film includes Martinex (Michael Rosenbaum), Charlie-27 (Ving Rhames), Aleta (Michelle Yeoh), Mainframe (voiced by Miley Cyrus) and Krugarr. These were all characters from the original Guardians of the Galaxy comics, set in the year 3000, and their inclusion is a wonderful nod to longtime comic fans. The arrival of the Ravagers proves to Rocket that despite his attempts to push away his friends they will always be there for him. The film ends with Rocket’s tearful, smiling face. Of course, then there are a record five credits scenes. (More on that below.)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bold experiment in blockbuster filmmaking. It has no real plot, instead focusing on characters and their relationships. It is a big-budget blockbuster hangout film. Even when there are major instances of plot exposition or battles, the film is as likely as not to ignore them or push them to the background. The relationships featured, however, are very hit-or-miss. Several of them feel underdeveloped or uneven. The themes of abusive fathers and childhood trauma ultimately shine through, but the experiment almost fails. These flaws keep the film from being an unconditional success, or equal to its predecessor.

Overall, though, it’s a rousing success mostly because of the endlessly enjoyable presentation. It’s as funny as any comedy from 2017. The visuals are beautiful, lush, and brightly coloured. The action, when Gunn decides to show it, is nicely staged. The soundtrack is at least as good as the first film’s massively-successful compilation. And above all, the characters are a lot of fun to spend time with and the cast seems to be having a ball.

If you need proof, look no further than the video for “Guardians Inferno”. The song is a disco remix of the main Guardians Theme by Tyler Bates similar to disco versions of the Star Wars Main Theme in the late-’70s. The video is filmed like a soft-focus ’70s music video, complete with period wardrobe and cheesy effects, and the fun is infectious. As the lead-up to the third Guardians film has shown, this cast is incredibly loyal to James Gunn, and this video is evidence of why.

And so, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is imperfect but so much fun. It was the first of three Marvel Cinematic Universe films released in 2017, more than ever before. After the surprising success of the first film, the sequel was widely expected to perform much better and easily win the summer of 2017. Although it made $390 million in North America, that was less than a six% increase in ticket sales from the first film. This slight underperformance, relative to expectations, allowed the excellent Wonder Woman (Jenkins, 2017) to take the summer crown.

Regardless of expectations, Guardians 2 was still a blockbuster featuring a walking tree, a talking raccoon, green characters, blue characters, gold characters and a living planet played by Kurt Russell. It was also a blockbuster film that features almost no plot whereas most blockbusters feature too much plot. Though not completely successful, the mere existence of this film indicated a subtle shift in Marvel Studios towards putting more faith in the wacky visions of their filmmakers. And, if anything, this approach increased Marvel’s already-immense success moving forward.

* * *

Stan Lee Cameo Corner: With so many appearances across so many films, people on the internet began to jokingly speculate whether Stan Lee’s cameos were connected. Perhaps he was a Watcher, a race of alien observers from Marvel Comics. This film acknowledges those theories, depicting Lee telling the story of his Captain America: Civil War cameo to a group of Watchers. That’s 29 cameos in 44 films.

Credits Scene(s): There are a record five credits scenes on the film. Also, the credits have a fun yearbook/dance party feel.
• First, Kraglin practices using Yondu’s flying arrow, and accidentally impales Drax.
• Second, Stakar assembles the original Guardians team in the wake of Yondu’s death, possibly setting up future appearances.
• Third, in the most conventional credits scene, Ayesha uses all of her resources to create a perfect new being to destroy the Guardians. She refers to him as Adam, referring to Adam Warlock from the comics.
• Fourth, we jump forward in time to find Peter parenting a now-teenage Groot. Groot’s room is messy, he constantly plays video games, and his voice now cracks.
ˆFinally, the Watchers walk away, stranding poor Stan Lee somewhere in space.

First Appearances:
• Pom Klementieff reappears as Mantis in the next two Avengers films.
• With my Marvel articles catching up to release dates, it’s becoming more difficult to know whether new characters will have future appearances. As of now, there’s very little information on the third Guardians film, so we’ll see who else reappears.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Viewing Order: Marvel Studios organizes their films into “Phases”. Although Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 occurs shortly after Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s in Phase 3 and not Phase 2. So, I decided to put Guardians 2 at the beginning of Phase 3 to keep them as close as possible. This also opens Phase 3 in the cosmic realm, while is where everything is headed:

Phase 1
1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
3. Thor
4. The Incredible Hulk
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
6. The Avengers

Phase 2
7. Iron Man 3
8. Thor: The Dark World
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
12. Ant-Man

Phase 3
13. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
14. Captain America: Civil War
15. {tbd}
16. Doctor Strange

Next Time: Spider-Man officially comes home to the MCU.



The Optimist Died Inside of Me: Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘Narrow Stairs’

Silent Film’s Raymond Griffith Pulled Tricksters Out of a Top Hats

The 10 Most Memorable Non-Smash Hit Singles of 1984

30 Years of Slowdive’s ‘Souvlaki’