Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn lays out his priorities in the very first scene. The group of eponymous heroes are charged with fighting off some deadly space monster or other, and the ensuing CGI-fest begins in earnest.
But the camera isn’t interested: instead it follows adorable tree sprite Groot as he dances to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky, the battle raging on in the background, a tentacle occasionally flumping into shot. Sure, there are giant space monsters in this movie, but everyone has those. Guardians of the Galaxy’s real trick is making us care – really care – about its ludicrous characters: Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoon Rocket, humourless alien bodybuilder Drax, the guy from Parks and Recreation who got super buff (seriously, swit-swoo).
Stylistically, Vol. 2 combines the bouncy, sugar-rush aesthetic of the first movie, with the trippy, LSD-inspired visuals used to such great effect in Marvel’s recent Doctor Strange. The result is a relentlessly gaudy two and a half hours, with every scene gift-wrapped in tinsel and spewing glitter from every orifice.
Nostalgia played a large part in the first movie, with its fetishisation of protagonist Quill’s “retro” Walkman and tape collection. Here the nostalgia is turned up to eleven, and then 12, and then infinity, with cameos and cheesy throwbacks and so many references to earth circa 1980 that it eventually becomes a little nauseating (and I’m a child of the 80s; I wonder how long your average 15-year-old’s borrowed nostalgia will hold out).
The story, for what it’s worth, follows Chris Pratt’s Quill as he makes some decidedly Freudian discoveries about his past, including the origins of his appropriately-named father, Ego (played with exceptional levels of ham and camp by Kurt Russell). There are countless sub-plots and call-backs to the first instalment, but it’s really just an excuse to get these characters on screen together.
It works so well that it’s hard to imagine a time when Guardians of the Galaxy represented a major risk, that someone put their job on the line by green-lighting a $200m adaptation of a third-rate comic book. It turned out to be Marvel’s best decision since asking Robert Downey to play Iron Man, and here we are with what might be the apotheosis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
First published in City A.M.