If you ever need a sure-fire test to work out if a film is truly enjoyable, I have it for you: watch it the first time with the audio description/subtitles in your own language on-screen. Because, based on watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in the cinema where that actually happened, I still enjoyed the hell out of this film despite the distraction.
You would think that the opportunity to report the problem to the cinema would arise early on, perhaps the credits, but this film doesn’t allow for that – the opening sequence with Baby Groot dancing to Mr Blue Sky is hilarious and charming and a demonstration of intent for the whole film. You are grabbed, you are laughing, you are wrapped in joy and it’s not going to stop.
This film starts not too long after the first film (the section titles place the film in 2014, before Captain America: Civil War for those taking note, which leads to a mistake in one of the FIVE post-credit stings, but you don’t really care), with the Guardians doing something good before Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) does something bad, which sets off a chain of events that lead to many things: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meeting his dad, Ego (Kurt Russell); Gamora (Zoe Saldana) interacting with her ‘sister’ Nebula (Karen Gillan); the return of Yondu (Michael Rooker); and Drax (Dave Batuista) providing exquisite comic relief whenever he’s deployed. However, the film is mostly about the characters – in a sequel, the usual approach is to increase the stakes; the Guardians saved the galaxy in the first film (and, spoilers, they save it again here), so it would always be difficult to top that, so instead writer/director James Gunn focuses on the people/trees/racoons.
This approach works because the first film created characters we cared about in a brightly coloured space romp, and we want to spend more time with them in this film. Yes, there is a plot, but this is an MCU film that doesn’t feel any real need to connect with the rest of the MCU films (there are a few nods, but there’s no setting up for Infinity War or linking to Thor: Ragnarok) and it just has a blast with this group gallivanting around the universe. And it is funny: there are great moments, great lines, great laughs that will keep you entertained from start to finish, and will leave you with an overwhelming sense of happiness that makes you want to rewatch the film immediately to experience it all over again (and not just because you want to watch it without the audio description). Although there is a place for comic book movies that are more serious and deeper (compare this with Logan, for example), this movie is the kind of experience I get from comic books, with the craziness and fun and heroics and colour.
Side note: people who are talking about how this film isn’t as fresh as the first – you are snobby idiots and should shut up. The whole point of the first film was that there was nothing like it, so this film could never be the same thing, and I wouldn’t want it to be.
The impressive thing is that this film balances a lot of different tones and succeeds in pulling them together because of the confidence and brio of Gunn – this film has a scene where some of the lead characters brutally slaughter an admittedly bad bunch of people, but does it in a way that feels almost joyful; this is a film that uses perhaps one of the most clichéd themes in Hollywood (father–son issues) and not only gets away with it but also doubles down on it for good measure and manages to be touching; this film thankfully also uses the rarely used theme of sister–sister relationships and handles it well; and there is a death that means something and the response of one character to the reaction to that death that brought a tear to my eye. All this in the middle of jokes and joyful nonsense. That’s quite an achievement.
Everything and everyone here are on form: the actors are on top form (Russell is perfect, Batuista keeps on being hilarious as Drax, and Rooker brings something special to Yondu), the direction and production design are fabulous, the cameos are perfect, even the credit sequence itself with dancing characters is a delight (to the sound of Flashlight by Parliament, one of my favourite songs, in another strong soundtrack). Writing this is making me want to go see it again. I can’t wait for the Blu-ray – I’ll just make sure to leave the audio description off this time …