RECAP: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): James Gunn

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit for Marvel. Released in August, the film finished third in that year’s box office.

A team partly comprised of a raccoon and a tree, the Guardians could have flopped out of theaters in a week and been forgotten.

Marvel never let them have that chance. A sequel was already in the works before the first movie came out. Arriving a year before all the Marvel characters assemble to battle Thanos, the Guardians have two important pieces: two of Thanos’s daughters.

These daughters take their relationship to another level. Peter Quill, the leader of the Guardians, sorts out his own daddy issues, and Rocket Raccoon raises a young, reconstituted Groot.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: The Guardians sort out some family drama while a god tries to kill all life in the galaxy.

Hero (5/10)

It’s Guardians, with an “s.” Just when you think they are Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Psychadelic Color Bunch, you watch a movie that buries the lead (Star-Lord) for its other members. True, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about Peter meeting his dad for the first time, but’s it’s also not about that.

After a daring escape from the Sovereign, Peter, crashed on a forested section of a strange planet, meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell).

We learn plenty about Dear Ol’ Dad during the film’s middle section, but for now let’s focus on Peter. Quill hears a strange man claim to be his father and immediately disbelieves him. And why not? What proof does he have?

Oh high, didn't see you there, Peter.
Oh high, didn’t see you there, Peter.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) urges Peter to pursue this. After all, Peter didn’t travel to meet Ego; the opposite happened. Peter, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) travel to Ego’s planet, where Peter learns that he is the son of a god.

Turns out that Peter’s father impregnated his mother in 1980 in Missouri. He sent Yondu (Michael Rooker in an increased role) to kidnap the boy and bring him to Ego’s planet, but Yondu reneged on the second half of deal (which we knew from the original Guardians).

Peter listens to Ego’s whole story, believing little, until one afternoon when Ego tells Peter to concentrate on making a ball of energy. Peter does so immediately, first try, with no practice. From then he was hooked.

Together Peter and Ego play catch, in a sweet moment that any semi-athletic (Earth) boy can relate to. Peter lets all qualms fade, just as Gamora raises some. These two, doing their galactic Sam and Diane, have an “unspoken thing” between them that needs hashing out. It has to wait until the Peter’s-pops-is-a-god-planet thing is sorted.

Gamora, meanwhile, deals with family issues. Remember Nebula (Karen Gillan), the part-woman part-machine who tried to destroy Xandar in the first movie? She’s back, held hostage by the Sovereign as payment for saving their fancy batteries in the scene that opens the film.

Nebula escapes the Guardians’ clutches after Peter and company visit Ego’s planet. She has one purpose–to kill Gamora and then their (adoptive) father, Thanos.

These sisters hardly ever text anymore.
These sisters hardly ever text anymore.

Nebula fails to kill Gamora. In a fantastic scene on Ego’s planet, Gamora sits alone in a Mars-like dirt-scape, wondering how in the galaxy she got stuck on a god planet.

Sitting alone in the silence, Gamora hears the long distance whine of a spacecraft engine. The only thing in the sky, the craft streaks toward Gamora. It’s Nebula, screaming and firing a dozen guns at her hated sister.

Gamora outruns one, two, three strafing attacks and into a cave. Nebula crashes and her ship catches fire. Gamora, genetically engineered to be super strong, picks up one of the detached ship’s guns, sparks the gun to life, mounts it on her shoulder like an oversized bazooka, and peppers the burning ship with hundreds of rounds.gamora shooting

Nebula is trapped. Gamora saves her from the flames after working out the aggression. They fight, with fists. Nebula claims victory. “Come on,” Gamora shouts eyerollingly. They fight, with words. Back in the day, when they were coming up, Thanos, their dad, forced them to fight each other. Gamora had to win, all the time, and daddy replaced parts of Nebula with machine parts, to better the blue sister.

Nebula didn’t care much for or about that. “I just wanted a sister,” she said, blaming Gamora’s competitive nature for Nebula’s body image problems. The sisters hug, but barely, before the finale. Will Nebula join the Guardians? Wait and see.

The movie finds time to spend with Rocket (Bradley Cooper), who’s caught along with Baby Groot as the two repair their ship. Kidnapped and imprisoned on Yondu’s Ravager ship, Rocket bonds with Yondu. Two professional-grade assholes pushing away anyone who shows them affection.

Some of the Guardians
Some of the Guardians

Rocket learns late in the film that Yondu, not an enemy, is a fellow lost soul. Even later, Yondu forces Rocket to leave him, so he can do right by Peter. One cold argue that Rocket loses as much in Yondu as Peter loses in Ego. At least Peter had a father. Rocket was made in a lab.

Family is at the heart of the Guardians, and their bonds, inside and outside the group, are tested in Vol. 2. Peter, clearly the star of the first movie, takes a backseat (or a side seat) to the other members of his team. This decision strengthens the film.

Villain (7/10)

After a dangerous escape from the Sovereign, the Guardians crash land on a planet, their necks saved by a man riding a ship like a surfboard. Who was this tiny man?

He lands an egg-shaped craft on the new planet, steps into the forest, and introduces himself. It’s Kurt Russell playing a “small g” god named Ego. And if his good looks didn’t give him away from the start, he’s Peter’s real father.

Long ago, during Reagan’s presidency, Ego knocked up Peter’s mom before fleeing to another world to impregnate another fine lady. Planet to planet Ego hopped along, searching for the perfect offspring he found in Peter, carrier of “the light.”

Ego, aka Peter's dad, aka a planet, aka champion scarf wearer
Ego, aka Peter’s dad, aka a planet, aka champion scarf wearer

Backstory time: Ego is a galactic intelligence that spent millions of years learning to manipulate physical space. What started as a floating brain wrapped itself with a planet. Then it learned to create an anthropomorphic form, with which Ego roamed the galaxy searching for other life.

When Ego came across other life for the first time, he was ecstatic. He didn’t have to be alone! Slowly, however, he found life “disappointing.” So Ego gave himself a purpose–to reform the galaxy in his own image.

Ego (along with his empathic sidekick Mantis) brings Peter, Gamora, and Drax to his planet, which is a living organism that is also Ego. Go with it. Peter does.

Ego pitches a nice story about his history and how Peter fits into all of it. Ego loved Peter’s mother, but he has to return to his planet to recharge. As long as “the light” of the planet burns, Ego can exist.

Skeptical at first, Peter buys Ego’s story whole cloth on the planet. Ego asks Peter to concentrate on making a ball of energy, and Peter does so first go. They play catch, like fathers and sons do.

But Ego has a dark secret not uncovered until later. He’s spread his seed across hundreds, thousands of planets, always seeking a child that carried “the light” as well as he. None did, until Peter.

Gamora and Nebula stumble upon the skeleton pile that represents the remains of Ego’s unworthy progeny as Ego explains his methods to Peter.

Ego also admits that it pained him to put a tumor in Peter’s mother’s brain. Peter wastes no time when hearing this news. He blasts the Kurt Russell form to oblivion.

The father-son reunion ends. They are enemies now. But Ego can still use Peter. Long ago, as Ego planted his seed across the galaxy, he also planted a literal seed in the terra firma of each planet. These seed pods, when activated, will cover the worlds with Egos. Ego’s plan is to remake all life in his image. All he needs is the energy to spark the pods. That energy will be a battery named Peter.

OK, it’s a big-time plan, but one perfect for a man calling himself Ego. And why do I keep calling him a man? It’s not the Kurt Russell casting (not only that), but the fact that Ego says, “Yes, Drax, I have a penis.”

Seems like Ego chose the more difficult route. Ego as a she could have birthed children on Ego’s planet. Could have saved Ego an extra trip to fetch the offspring for the battery trials that they all failed.

Look at that '80s hair!
Look at that ’80s hair!

I can’t think of a better actor and name for this character than Kurt Russell and Ego. Russell has played braggadocio characters for decades, none more full of themselves than a being prepared to make over the entire known galaxy in his image, all other creatures be damned.

Charming at first, middle, and end, villainous all the way through, Ego is a terrific villain that doesn’t know he’s a villain.

Action/Effects (4/10)

Guardians 2 chose a different route to entertain. This franchise understands its role in the Marvel universe and fulfills it well. The first movie could be called and action/comedy, the 2017 sequel is a comedy with action.

Two action scenes are sidelined for comedy. The first follows the 1980 Missouri scenes, in which the Guardians defend the Sovereign’s precious batteries from a inter-dimensional octopus Jaws.

They prepare to fight. Rocket eagerly wants the boombox to work so they can fight to a soundtrack. Even Peter thinks Rocket has misplaced priorities in this moment.

Hello, I'm why the money gets made. Watch me dance.
Hello, I’m why the money gets made. Watch me dance.

The beast arrives on a large platform above the planet’s surface and they fight. Four of them fight. Baby Groot, quickly regenerating after his destruction at the end of the first movie, can’t do much to a giant creature. Instead, as the title flashes on, he connects plugs to kick on the boombox.

“Mr. Blue Sky” plays. Baby Groot dances to the song and the camera stays with him. Marvel knows how to make its money, and Baby Groot is IT. Out of focus in the background, the Guardians fly, shoot, crash, scream and shout at the Jaws-topus. Baby Groot, oblivious, dances through it all in a single, adorable, take.

The monster the Guardians fight while Baby Groot dances.
The monster the Guardians fight while Baby Groot dances.

After the song ends we get to see the Guardians kill the creature using the teamwork and arguing they perfected in Vol. 1.

A second deferred action scene occurs in the climax, discussed below. An extended joke draws the camera from the action to a discussion between Rocket, Baby Groot and Peter about tape. It’s funny, cute, and fits well with the tone of the Guardians movies.

Perhaps Marvel couldn’t afford the effects needed for full blown action scenes. One wonders how much of Guardians is really onscreen. Astounding visuals permeate many scenes.

Ravager fiiiiirewooorks, come on let your colors burst.
Ravager fiiiiirewooorks, come on let your colors burst.

The Sovereign are gold people living in a gold world. Ego’s planet is as beautiful as one could imagine a polychromatic life form. The Ravager shoot colorful fireworks in Colors are everywhere. Vibrant colors are popular in the 2010s, as they were in Peter’s 1980s. I bet he feels still at home.

Behold this gold motif.
Behold this gold motif.

Sidekicks (8/8)

The sidekicks and henchmen flesh out the Guardians universe and are its strongest facets.

Baby Groot, a full fledged Guardian, gets a downgrade here for being a baby and not doing as much as the others. Having said that, he does activate the bomb that kills the villain.

Baby Groot is a killer…with cuteness! Even the mutinous Ravagers admit that he’s too “adorable” to kill. They are ready to open Rocket’s throat, but never Baby Groot, who freely roams the ship. Baby Groot’s attempts to steal Yondu’s prototype needle-controlling mohawk is a scene for the ages and part of what makes Vol. 2 so strong.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, Groot (voice: Vin Diesel, 2017. ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection
Gratuitous Baby Groot picture

Nebula is for and against the Guardians, but she helps kill Ego, so she gets a placement here. What’s her deal? She wants to kill her family. That’s all. Granted, her “family” is a “father” who murdered most of her race and kept her, and her “sister” endured the same fate as Nebula.

Also, we learn, Nebula and Gamora were forced to fight each other as children, and Gamora, being genetically engineered to fight like the devil, always won. Nebula shares her fate with Gamore. After each defeat, Thanos replaced a biological part of Nebula with a mechanical part, all the better to beat Gamora with. It never worked. Nebula’s mostly machine now.

Emotionally, though, Nebula’s all human. Guardians finds time to develop her. She could have fled the first movie’s climactic battle and never be heard from again. Or died. Instead, she gets a sort-of make up with her sister.

Yondu, captain of a Ravager clan, develops most. We learn more about the Ravagers: 100 clans steal and smuggle things and people across the galaxy. But never children. That’s their one rule. A rule Yondu broke when he kidnapped Peter Quill from Earth the night the boy’s mother died.

Perhaps the emotional crux of the film.
Perhaps the emotional crux of the film.

Yondu endures and survives mutiny, after his men no longer trust his leadership, and after Nebula blast the scalp device that controls Yondu’s terrifying and effective whistle needle.

Somehow, Yondu is the emotional flashpoint of Vol. 2. I know, how did that happen? Yondu considers Rocket a fellow lost soul, and Peter his adoptive son. That Yondu gives his life for Peter, to right all his wrongs in life, after losing the confidence of his crew of Ravagers, receiving a 99-ship-gun salute, is the tear-jerking moment of Vol. 2. This blue guy.

Henchmen (4/8)

Kidnapped at some age by Ego, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is a mantis-like empath, capable of feeling feelings, and capable of manipulating feelings. Her job with Ego: be his personal Ambien, helping the god sleep.

Empathic Mantis
Empathic Mantis

Declared “ugly” by Drax, Mantis has beauty on the inside. Her large black irises and forehead antennae help sell the strangeness. I stuck her here because I needed to put someone here, despite her doing as much as anyone to defeat Ego.

Lastly, Taserface, the guy who led the mutiny of Yondu’s Ravager faction. He deserves mention for the terrific recurring joke of his name, which is Taserface. Taserface. Even the haughty Sovereign found the humor in that name, that name being Taserface.

Stunts (2/6)

After Nebula crashes on Ego’s planet, failing to kill her sister Gamora with a barrage of bullets fired from a spacecraft, Nebula tries fisticuffs. It’s a brief fight, and one we saw done better on a Kree warship above Xandar in Guardians Vol. 1.

Instead of trying to top that fight, they shoot it differently. As the sisters try to hit each other, the camera zooms toward each combatant’s face. Recall the scene in Evil Dead 2 when Ash suits up with the chainsaw for the first time. Same thing.

Effects extravaganzas like the Guardians series leave little room for stunt sequences. Crazy worlds such as these don’t lend well to fist fights. Nebula’s half machine (and all rage) at this point; how can she be a stunt person?

Oh, and Chris Pratt got his bell rung doing a falling stunt. Did Tom Cruise ever get knocked out? No, never. And had he, we’d never hear about it.

Climax (4/6)

Lots of folks are converging on Ego’s planet. Yondu’s ship, The Sovereign, Ego. Oh yeah, Ego’s the planet. Ego shows his hand to Peter, trying to use him as a battery to jump start The Expansion, Ego’s project that will kill all life. It’s working pretty well until Ego blows it, telling Peter that he put a tumor in Peter’s mother’s brain.

That sets off Peter. He shoots Ego’s human form to pieces and joins Yondu on his ship. The ship blasts a hole to the planet’s interior, where Ego keeps his cosmic brain. That’s where they have to go to kill the planet.

Ego's Expansion plan covering Earth
Ego’s Expansion plan covering Earth

Yondu’s mini ship has a neat trick: dozens of balls roll around the ship’s hull blasting lasers. These balls can be programmed and coordinated to shoot in any direction. Yondu chooses to shoot at Ego’s core in one direction. Problem is, the lasers aren’t strong enough.

I mentioned the Sovereign. Their drones enter the core area and fight like wildfire, easy to do when your lives aren’t at stake. They blast a hole in Yondu’s ship. Several of the Guardians jettison onto the hard surface.

Ego (the planet) uses his light energy to attack, but Mantis has the skills to put him to sleep, even when he doesn’t want to sleep. Drax believed in her, and she did it. Then he admitted that he did not believe in her.

Meanwhile, Rocket has prepared a bomb. Said bomb, armed with a timer, can destroy Ego’s brain. Problem is, the only way to access the brain is through teeny tiny tunnels too large even for a fox, or whatever Rocket is. There’s only one person for the job: Baby Groot.

“We’re all gonna die,” Rocket says. And they likely will. Rocket spends valuable screen time explaining the bomb to Baby Groot. It has two buttons, one to activate the five-minute timer, the other to instantly detonate. Baby Groot, asked to repeat the steps, each time points at the “kill everyone” button.

Why does this bomb have two buttons? For comedy!
Why does this bomb have two buttons? For comedy!

The genius of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes out in this moment. Rocket asks Peter for some tape to place over the “kill everyone” button. Peter doesn’t have any tape. He asks Gamora if she has tape. No dice. Peter asks Yondu for tape, gets nothing, asks Drax for tape. Drax asks if Scotch tape would work. It would. Well, Drax doesn’t have any Scotch tape.

Peter returns to the hole with Rocket and Baby Groot to tell the raccoon that, no, no one has any tape. But, did Peter ask Nebula? Peter says that he did. But he was lying. Nebula was sitting beside Yondu when he asked about the tape and said nothing. One could infer that Nebula has no tape.

Here we are in the climax, a battle raging all around and amongst a god, and everything stops for a minute to have a joke about tape. After all that, after finding no tape, Baby Groot runs away anyway with the bomb toward Ego’s brain.

And hey, Ego’s brain is…a human brain. Large, but human. I didn’t buy that. Anyway, Baby Groot attaches the bomb to a field surrounding the brain. He almost pushes the “kill everyone” button. Almost. Still young, Baby Groot’s xylem doesn’t make it to the crown yet, but he’s enough sense to live the next few minutes. He pushes the timer button and books it back to the surface.

While this is going on, there’s plenty of drama in the area surrounding Ego’s brain. Nebula uses her person as a power source to reactivate the laser balls that shorted out when Yondu’s ship absorbed a Sovereign strike. The lasers project like an electric puffer fish, blasting the entire drone fleet.

Yondu and Nebula join the others on solid ground. “I’m Mary Poppins y’all,” Yondu shouts as he floats down with his needle. A piece of metal knocks Mantis unconscious, releasing her hold on Ego. Ego reconstitutes his Kurt Russell self in a jaw-dropping visual effect.

Ego, getting the self back together.
Ego, getting the self back together.

Peter uses his god powers to fight Ego as his friends flee to a large ship parked on the planet’s surface. Guardians being a family tale, they flee in pairs: Drax carrying Mantis, Nebula saving Gamora, and Rocket flying with Baby Groot.

That leaves Peter and Yondu. Rocket has one spacesuit and one jetpack for Yondu. Problem is, the ship is leaving the atmosphere post haste. Yondu knows what this means. So does Rocket. “Let me do this,” Yondu says.

Peter fights his pa. “You shouldn’t have killed my mom and squished my Walkman.” Peter again destroys Kurt Russell. They do battle as gods, white light pulsing through them and at them. They steal from the Fantastic Four’s Thing by assembling rocks around them, Ego molds his rocks into Kurt Russell, Peter, in the joke of the movie for its timing, assembles as Pac-Man. They collide.

The big players fighting Ego
The big players fighting Ego

“Listen to me,” Ego says to his son, his only surviving, god-like son, “You are a god. If you kill me, you’ll be just like everyone else!” Peter looks his father in the eye. He doesn’t ask, he says: “What’s so wrong with that.”

The bomb explodes Ego’s brain. Yondu snatches Peter and flies toward the ship ascending into space. Peter, wrapped in Yondu’s arms, understands what’s happening in front of his face. Yondu, prepared for this, says, “I’m sorry I didn’t do none of it right, but I’m damn proud you’re my boy.” Yondu slowly freezes. Chris Pratt does some grade-A acting as he screams “No!”

Safely in space, on now-Peter’s ship, Yondu receives the Ravager funeral his old boss swore he’d never get. Rocket space tweeted Yondu’s deeds, and the entire Ravager fleet popped in to say blast off fireworks for their fallen friend.  Yondu, we hardly knew ye.

Jokes (4/4)

I mentioned earlier that this movie is a comedy with action. Director James Gunn knows what sets apart Guardians, and that’s the comedy. Here are some of the best.

Drax laughs his silly, forced laugh much more often in Vol. 2. He tells Peter that he knew his wife was for him when he saw that she did not dance at a party. She did not even tap her toes to the beat. That’s Drax’s kind of woman. He also tell Mantis that she is hideous to look upon. Literal to a T, Drax is not a man for comedy, yet he still makes us laugh.

Yondu's whistle needle making bodies rain.
Yondu’s whistle needle making bodies rain.

Rocket is all fire in this edition. Most jokes are at his expense. Characters in Vol. 2 refer to Rocket as a puppy, rat, fox, triangle-faced monkey, and “trash panda.” He turns the tables when he meets the mutinous Ravager known as Taserface, mocking that name until the end of time.

One of the best jokes occurs after the climax. One of Yondu’s men, sad that Peter has lost his precious Walkman, gives him a Zune. “What all the people are listening to these days,” he more or less says. It can hold more than 300 songs on it. Peter, incredulously, asks, “Three hundred?” This galaxy has interspace jump capability and god planets, but no song technology better than a Zune. Amazing.

Setting (4/4)

Astounding visuals permeate many scenes. Consider a quiet moment on Ego’s planet. Gamora, upset about a great many things, sits alone in a red, Mars-like desert. Gamora’s green skin makes the image almost like Christmas.red planet

Two chaffs of grass rub each other in this nearly soundless void. Their grating annoys Gamora. She draws out her sword and cuts them off. Far behind her, in the red sky, she hears the high whine of an approaching engine. Evoking North by Northwest, Gamora gets up and runs. The craft is flying to kill her, flown by Gamora’s homicidal sister.

This gorgeous setting is one of several. Ego’s planet is a wonderland of color, patterns, and architecture that would make the Olympian gods wonder.

Fittingly, Ego’s ship resembles the head of a sperm cell. Inside, his ship recalls the Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange, this time tinged with yellow and white.peter ego ship

The Sovereign are gold-skinned people who let that color permeate everything in their world. About the only thing not gold is the blue carpet that its High Priestess walks on wherever she travels.

Fantastic (in both senses) worlds help the Guardians series stand out from other fantasy worlds. The effects companies are at the tops of their games.

Commentary (0/2)

The Guardians are all about family. That’s stated a few times. Nebula scoffs at them calling each other friends. They fight all the time. It’s Drax who sets her straight. They’re not friends; they’re family.

And families do argue, but (mostly) out of love. Rocket bickers with everyone. Drax mocks those around him. Peter and Gamora have that something unspoken. They are family, through and through.

Also important is Ego’s purpose. He is a life form, and life forms spread themselves.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Good times all around amongst all ethnicities, races, and species.

Others

  • Love the gold motifs amongst the Sovereign.
  • Mary Poppins is dope.
  • Ego raises many questions. Why did he choose a human form? I suspect he changed his form depending on to whom he spoke. Why did he kidnap Mantis to help him sleep? That one, I don’t have an answer for.

Summary (34/68): 50%

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 answers many questions from its predecessor. Who is Peter’s father? A god-like intelligence capable of killing all sentient life forms. Why did Yondu kidnap Peter? Because Ego paid him to do it, but the blue man couldn’t give up the boy. What will Baby Groot be like? Adorable.

Guardians is all about its team of five, and like any getting-the-band-together origin story, much time is spent getting the band together. Also, like any fantasy film, much time is spent world building.

Vol. 2 dispenses with all that and comes away better for it. By letting Chris Pratt take a back seat and adding a better villain and interesting subplots, this sequel beats its predecessor.