I still stand by my initial review of Guardians Vol. 2. It’s definitely a better film on the second pass, and better still on IMAX. No, I still don’t think it’s as good as the first one, though I appreciate the character progressions if not so much the overall story.
There’s no getting around the fact that Vol. 2 takes about an hour to get warmed up. The first stretch is basically a series of (admittedly entertaining) skits and setup for ongoing plot points. The wider plot goes more-or-less exactly how you’d expect it to, as being an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-esque sequel it goes darker, splits the central group up and brings with it unresolved baggage with absent parents. But Vol. 2 really comes into its own in an emotionally-charged and visually brazen final act. We haven’t really seen a superpowered father-son bust-up since Ang Lee’s HULK, and this one is a lot more accessible and looks so much better.
It is perhaps the best-looking film Marvel have produced to date, with out-there aliens, original sci-fi imagery (quantum asteroids that pop in and out of reality, spray-on ship repair) intricately jumbled rusty starship sets, Technicolor galactic panoramas and Kurt Russell reassembling himself layer-by-layer before our very eyes. They’re even almost there with de-aging VFX, from the terrifying mannequin-looking thing that was Jeff Bridges in TRON: LEGACY to the close-but-no-cigar Michael Douglas in ANT-MAN and Robert Downey Jr in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. I’m all for special effects giving actors an opportunity to expand their roles, and it’s nice to see Russell in his 80s heyday again, and fitting so comfortably into the Guardians-verse.
I’d also failed to fully appreciate the thematic richness of the film the first time I watched it. Ego is by some distance the most devious maniacal bastard the heroes of the Marvel universe have yet faced. When it becomes apparent that his grand plan has been shagging across the cosmos for millennia until he finds a genetically suitable host for a progeny, all in the name of making the galaxy in his own image, he becomes deliciously irredeemable. His portrayal feeds right back into the thematic underpinning, with both sets of baddies, Ego and the genetically engineered Sovereign striving for perfection and uniformity, and the Guardians stubbornly remaining square pegs in round holes. Everyone’s been torn apart on some level and painfully reformed, but their individuality, the reason for being outcasts and gravitating towards other outcasts, is what makes them.
This was a slow-burner for me, but it certainly hasn’t fallen short as many of Marvel’s sequels tend to. It’s unexpectedly complex if you’re prepared to make a second or third trip, and the criminally underrated Michael Rooker providing this film’s “We are Groot” moment towards the end is almost worth it all by itself. SSP