by Arjuna Lemke
Marvel Studios kicked off the summer with the fifteenth film in its “Marvel Cinematic Universe” franchise, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.” The third film in the third phase of Marvel’s groundbreaking movie empire, including five separate series and numerous standalone films, “Volume 2” breathes new life into a franchise whose fans are still reeling from the mundane yet acceptable adventure that was “Doctor Strange” and the emotional downfall of the franchise’s mainstay, The Avengers, in “Captain America: Civil War.” Following up 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” whose retro-style science fiction world and nostalgia-heavy soundtrack helped rocket the film far past its expectation, “Volume 2” doubles down on its predecessor’s selling points while cementing itself as a pivotal and imperative film in the overall scheme of the entire MCU franchise.
The film opens in massive display of lights and heavy CGI, with multiple shots obviously produced to sell 3D, IMAX and associated viewing tickets. The main cast are all present, returning with their initial charm, which seems forced as the characters’ more popular aspects and traits overshadow the nuance they arrived with. Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana return as love interests Peter Quill, better known as Star Lord, and Gamora. Volume 1’s peanut gallery returns in the form of Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and Drax the Destroyer, voiced by Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and professional wrestler, Dave Bautista.
Segueing into its story, Quill’s mother, who died in the first movie’s opening scene is seen with his likely father, a celestial, one of the gods of the Marvel Franchise, Ego, the Living Planet, played by none other than the legendary Kurt Russell. The story further delves into Star Lord’s relationship with his adoptive father, Yondu, a space pirate, portrayed by Michael Rooker, famous for his role as Henry in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and his stint as Merle on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Quill’s bond with Ego flourishes while Yondu becomes a pariah with his pirate armada, The Ravagers, helmed by none other than Sylvester Stallone in a role created entirely for the actor himself.
Our heroes begin their story running errands for a race of hyper-intelligent, idyllically beautiful, extremely arrogant and dignified gold skinned extraterrestrials. The dialogue between Quill’s crew and the Sovereign people, as they’re called, sounds very forced — and it is this early in “Volume 2” that complaints and grievances from fans and casual viewers alike begin. A new character appears in the form of Mantis. A vast deviation from her comic book origins, Mantis is far cry from the super-powered, self-actualized mutant she was conceived as. Another comic-relief character added to the MCU’s ever-growing peanut gallery, her presence is, sadly forgettable, as very little substantial material ends up occurring throughout.
“Volume 2,” at its core, suffers from pacing issues and lack of direction, the in media res nature of the story makes each change and turning point a shock or a surprise, but does not fail to keep the audience incrementally attentive for the two and a half hour run time. Benefitting from the nature of the franchise, to include cliff-hangers and crucial plot points in post and mid-credit scenes, “Volume 2” benefits from the fact that any Marvel fan or any of their friends and acquaintances dragged along will be certain to watch ’til the end lest they miss anything. And for those fans, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2,” solidifies the wait with one of the juiciest post-credit easter eggs yet, more than capable of keeping any true Marvel fan talking and giddy in its stead.
While by no means a must-see, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” succeeded exactly where it was meant to, at the box office and with engaged fans. The film has already passed its budget twice over and shot past the gross of its predecessor. “Volume 2” does what it was meant to: progress the story and keep people interested. For anyone seeking two hours of summer fun and big-budget action, “Volume 2” more than fits the bill.