The long-awaited sequel to Marvel’s record-shattering hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, has arrived. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is again directed by James Gunn, and features a returning cast of oddballs, including Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), and the now Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). The Guardians are hired by alien species, called the Sovereign, to protect their rare batteries from an invader. After Rocket steals from the Sovereign, they send a galactic army after the Guardians. Amid this, Peter Quill finds himself face-to-face with a man named Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be his father.
Guardians Vol. 2 is not better than the first, but it might be funnier. The film leans hard into the character’s eccentricities, and while not every joke lands, there are sequences that are irresistibly silly and inventive. Drax’s hulking cluelessness and Baby Groot’s adorableness are a few of the running gags that the film revisits. The problem is, the funny moments feel like a welcome reprieve from the less-compelling plot, rather than part of a complete experience.
The charming integration of music in the first film feels contrived here. But this, like most of the movie’s flaws, is a result of the burden that is carried by anticipated sequels. Gunn is balancing the pressure of replicating its monetary success, which made the first Guardians endearing, and the need to move the story forward. Guardians Vol. 2 is impressive and its ambition to tackle emotional storylines is refreshing. However, the actual execution of the pathos is underwhelming. When Quill’s relationship with Ego is explored, it feels rushed and underdeveloped; When the film bounces through several characters’ states of mind, it ends up feeling obligatory instead of genuine.
Since the first Guardians had been used as a template for other less successful superhero films, it’s easy to take for granted that these are the most original Marvel entries to date. This film displays a great deal of risk-taking considering the confines of studio pictures, and James Gunn seems to have found a rare pocket of freedom within this universe. Still, Guardians Vol. 2 just can’t shake off the crushing weight of audience expectation.