It still seems difficult to believe that a space adventure film where 90% of the main characters consist of weird aliens is one of the most successful and wildly entertaining franchises to come out in the last few years. Undoubtedly emboldened by the audience’s acceptance of the previous film, writer and director James Gunn takes these strange alien characters into an even more fantastical adventure that pushes the limits and potential of the world that it takes place in.
It’s easy to heap praise on the incredible visuals that the film provides. From the detailed production design, elaborate make-up and costumes, colorful cinematography, and awe-inspiring visual effects, the bigger and bolder sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy looks like an exhilarating exercise in creativity and imagination. Director James Gunn and his creative team fully embrace the strangeness of the film’s universe to provide us a world that is suitably alien and spectacular. It feels like every shot has been designed for maximum visual impact with its bold use of bright colors and otherworldly design.
But even more impressive than the film’s seemingly endless number of technical achievements is how it further develops its numerous characters. Sequels tend to have more freedom in terms of creating elaborate storylines because it’s no longer burdened by introducing and establishing its characters. Since most of the legwork and development has already been done in the previous film, a sequel can take off almost immediately since audiences should already be familiar with the major players. But in this case, James Gunn does almost the exact opposite by focusing even more on its characters and developing them further instead of telling a more intricate plot.
It does this so well that you begin to have doubts with regards to the quality of the film’s plot, but the complex character development serves another purpose: to distract us with what’s been happening in the background. Amidst Peter Quill’s reunion with his father, Gamora and Nebula’s conflict coming to a head, Rocket Raccoon’s persistence in alienating himself with the group, and Yondu’s thief-with-a-heart-of-gold routine, the film’s plot has actually been slowly but surely building up to the inevitable climax while we’re too busy focusing on the characters’ respective evolutions.
While it should come as no surprise that Peter Quill’s father is actually a villain with ulterior motives, the film manages to lull us into a false sense of comfort right before his ultimate plan is revealed. Again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ego is the film’s bad guy, but it takes us off guard anyway because we’re seeing him through Peter’s starstruck eyes. At no point do we see Ego by himself in the first half of the film, cackling in a hidden corner to himself as his evil plan comes to fruition while our heroes stand by unawares. On the contrary, Peter is with him every time we see Ego onscreen (save for the first scene), so we’re left wondering all throughout as to what his plans and motivations are, which is revealed to the characters and the audience at the same time. This has the exciting effect of kick-starting the film’s grand climax, which manages to surprise with its far-reaching scope.
Understanding that the success of the franchise is rooted in the characters is what makes this corner of the Marvel universe feel so special. The wonderful dynamic of these wildly different characters being united by a sense purpose when they’re among each other is executed so well that they manage to feel relatable despite their strange appearances. Most important is that they provide meaning to all the spectacle that the film has to offer. All the wonders of CGI aren’t as important if the characters and story fall flat.
Breathtaking action scenes and fully realized characters combine for one of the most entertaining and memorable blockbusters in recent memory. Although it doesn’t quite reach the same refreshing highs that the first film offered, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is nonetheless a worthy sequel to one of the biggest surprises to come out in the comic book and sci-fi adventure genre. What was once considered to be a risky inclusion in the Marvel cinematic universe continues to cement itself as one of the best in an oversaturated genre. When the end credits once again proudly and confidently state that the Guardians of the Galaxy will return, it’s a promise that manages to bring joy and excitement with what future installments will offer.