Warning: Fairly comprehensive spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to follow; proceed with caution!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one remarkable movie, and looks sure to be one of the strongest-performing installments in the #MCU to date. But as fans flock to theaters to check out the sequel, one tantalizing question is running through their minds...
- 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2': News, Trailer, Release Date, Plot, Cast, Characters & All You Need To Know
1. Clear, Powerful Character Arcs
Let's start with the character arcs. Guardians of the Galaxy is essentially the story of Peter Quill and friends. Chris Pratt is a phenomenal actor, and he acts as the emotional centerpiece of the whole story. The other characters are developed insofar as they relate to Peter Quill and, by extension, to the rest of the team. Sure, there are some absolutely wonderful moments; Rocket's drunken fury, for example, or Groot's heart-wrenching act of self-sacrifice. But essentially the other team-members are secondary characters.
That's not the case in the sequel. If Guardians of the Galaxy was about becoming a family, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about being a family. Every single character comes under the microscope, and this leads to some pretty powerful moments. The family history between Gamora and Nebula is deeply disturbing, adding another layer of menace to Thanos's character just in time for Avengers: Infinity War. The relationship between Rocket and Yondu is superb, using each to shine a light on the other's character and motivations. Even the stoic Drax gets a moment to shine, as Mantis touches his skin and sees through his prickly facade to the grief within. It's wonderful.
2. The Mos Eisley Cantina Of The MCU
Back when A New Hope first aired in 1977, one of the most remarkable things about George Lucas's vision was that he dared to present a very three-dimensional galaxy. The universe he created wasn't just divided up into Empire and Rebellion; you had a seedier side, hinted at so powerfully in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Sure, the first Guardians of the Galaxy suggested the same, giving us a glimpse of Knowhere and revealing a galaxy in which the Collector could keep slaves and go unpunished. But the sequel goes a step further.
The sequel strips away any illusion that "advanced" races are pleasant ones. It adds another layer of darkness to the Kree, revealing that they have armies of "battle-slaves." It reveals the bloodthirsty Sovereign, obsessed with their own genetic purity and clearly something of a force to be reckoned with — at least in their own eyes. And we see just how many Ravagers there are, pirates who at least have a code. The stage is set for these Ravagers to become increasingly important to the MCU going forward, likely being the second iteration of the Guardians when #JamesGunn is done with the first trilogy.
3. A Beautiful Mix Of Light And Dark
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is #Marvel's darkest film to date. I mean, the movie features plots discussing child abduction, child abuse, and child slavery. Two sisters launch bloodthirsty, hate-filled attempts to murder one another. In a plot arc that feels like a Roman myth, Peter Quill learns that his godlike father is responsible for his mother's death; the film ends with Quill holding his father's "body" as it crumbles to dust, with Peter successfully committing patricide.
But James Gunn balances this darkness out by contrasting it with an evocative, upbeat soundtrack. There's a sort of dissonance between the two, the light of the soundtrack contrasting perfectly with the bleak themes, ensuring the movie never feels heavy. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a masterclass in how to balance light and dark, and a brilliant demonstration of James Gunn's craft.
4. A Remarkable Villain
Bring on the bad guys! Marvel is famous for their "villain problem," with the baddies typically underdeveloped. In Doctor Strange, for example, Kaecilius was actually better-developed in one of the prequel comics than he was in the movie!
That's not the case with Ego, though. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unveils Ego as both a cosmic foe and a remarkably personal evil; the grandeur of Ego's world-consuming masterplan is contrasted with the human cost of him killing the woman he claims to have loved.
Meanwhile, the final battle is a smart inversion of the typical Marvel formula. Most Marvel villains are a dark reflection of the heroes; Iron Man battles the Iron Monger, Doctor Strange takes on Kaecilius, Captain America is pitted against the Red Skull. In contrast, though, the sequel is all about Peter Quill learning how to become the light to his father's darkness. Ultimately, the defeat of Ego is also an act of self-sacrifice on Peter Quill's part, as he destroys the source of this cosmic, Celestial power.
Contrast this with Ronan, who's essentially the weak link of Guardians of the Galaxy. Underdeveloped in a film that's chock-full of fantastical ideas, Ronan was simply outshone by every other element in the first film. Ego, though? He dominates the film, ably portrayed by Kurt Russell, and leaves us chilled by his terrifying power.
5. Strong Female Characters
Meanwhile, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the trend of improving Marvel's roster of female characters. The character arcs for Gamora and Nebula are tremendous, and thankfully, there's much more to Gamora than her romance with Peter Quill. Both characters gain remarkable depth, with the script exploring their childhood and forcing them to face the pain of their shared history.
At the same time, James Gunn adds another strong female character to the mix: Mantis. No warrior-woman, Mantis is portrayed as a beautifully innocent character. It's great to see the Guardians gain a new member, one who should add a new layer of purity to their cause.
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It's inevitable that any sequel will be compared to its successor. For me, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is that rare creature; a movie that actually transcends the original, that has more depth and stronger character arcs. Incredibly, it's Marvel's darkest movie to date — and as a result, it shows just how far Marvel can push the darkness while still remaining PG-13. This is one fantastic film.
Which do you think was better - 'Guardians of the Galaxy' or 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2'?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Studios)