When development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing post the 2012 team flick “Avengers”, nobody could have expected Marvel Studios to add in a team of characters operating in a mainly cosmic setting far away from the other heroes (and villains) on Earth. I had been skeptical of the audience appeal for the Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the mid-level titles in the Marvel Comics library, when their MCU movie premiered in 2014.
To my surprise, it became a favorite in the franchise partly because of the quirky characters – I, AM, (a) GROOT (fan)! – the imaginative alien locations and, perhaps most importantly, the spectacular usage of some equally not-so-remembered but cool songs ranging from the 1960s through 70s for the soundtrack. With the in-story explanation of having the lead character being abducted by aliens as a child in the 80s when he grew up with said songs on cassette, it was probably one of the most awesome film soundtracks in recent years.
And now as the overall MCU narrative brings its superheroes to eventually clash with the universal threat of the Infinity Stones and the mastermind trying to gather them, focus returns if briefly to the Marvel cosmos and the Guardians of the Galaxy in their first sequel and the first MCU installment for 2017, imaginatively subtitled “Vol. 2”
Taking place shortly after the events of the first film (thus actually occurring BEFORE the other MCU films that came before it and after the original), the Guardians Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and now-Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) have started going to work as heroes for hire. While doing a job on the straight-laced and uptight planet Sovereign in exchange for their releasing one of their prisoners to the Guardian’s custody – Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillian), Rocket causes offense to the Sovereign high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), which leads to the Guardians being pursued off-world by drone fighter spacecraft and crash-landing on a remote planet.
There they meet a stranger named Ego (Kurt Russell) who identifies himself as the long-lost father of Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, and offers to spend time with him at Ego’s home world. A doubtful Quill takes up the offer accompanied by Gamora and Drax, who befriends Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), while the other Guardians fix up their ship and guard Nebula until her bounty can be claimed. Elsewhere, Ayesha contracts the breakaway Ravager crew of Yondu Undonta (Michael Rooker) to capture the Guardians for her.
I can’t afford to spoil any further story bits from hereon, but suffice to say that somehow writer and director Peter Gunn has managed to maintain the atmosphere of the previous film which made it the surprise crowd-pleaser that it was. The locations are also quite eye-catching, from the techy alien world of Sovereign, a forested planet, and of course the world of Ego with its extra-terrestrial flora and kitschy architecture that all but screams that it has a dark secret. The Ravager ship of Yondu is seen once more as a prominent locale, and it serves as one of the most artistically rendered battlefields yet for the whole MCU.
Another element from 2014 that triumphantly returns in “Vol. 2” is the ridiculously fun humor. While some of the best bits are already known from the trailers, there’re still plenty of brand-new laughs to be had, both subtle and uproarious. Examples include the Sovereign drone fighters being controlled like arcade first-person vehicle shooter games and one mean-looking Ravager with the dubiously sinister nickname of Taser-face, which make even the serious Sovereign inhabitants bust a gut upon hearing of it.
Finally we get to the soundtrack, and again it doesn’t disappoint. The “Vol. 2” subtitle itself refers in-universe to a new mix-tape cassette Quill received from his late mom at the end of the previous movie, and it’s full of awesome new tunes I’m ashamed to admit have never heard much before. Number like “Fox on the Run” from Sweet (ha-ha, Marvel Studios) and “The Chain” from Fleetwood Mac are but the tip of the musical iceberg that is this film. It’s a small wonder that these songs have rocketed to top lists on iTunes for one, thanks to their utter ear-worm status.
Not much more to talk about here other than the tying in to the rest of the MCU, with cameo appearances from Sylvester Stallone and Michelle Yeoh as other Ravager members whose character names are from the classic roster of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the original comics, as well as Stan Lee talking about his previous MCU appearances to the observer entities called Watchers. They may be Easter Eggs, or maybe we’ll be surprised if they tie in to 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War”. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I highly recommend “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. It’s so sweet like retro music.