(Stop here for souls afraid of spoilers)
Any time a new Marvel movie comes out, fans question where that movie stands to the great MCU movies that preceded it, both in quality and originality. The first Guardians of the Galaxy scored high because it simultaneously was the most important film connecting everything to the end goal of the MCU (Infinity War) but also the film that exists most outside of MCU events. It was an early architect of the MCU machine but not a cog simply meant to serve it. That’s what made it special.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is perfectly entertaining and lots of fun, but it certainly isn’t special. It clones the sardonic humor and keen cast chemistry from the first, but lacks that “lightning in a bottle” quality of its predecessor. Now that the Guardians are a bit more established now in their universe and our own reality, they’ve lost a bit of their underdog charm, you can’t go from rags to riches and still earn the love of the rag-wearers. But the main ailment stabbing at the nucleus of this new Guardians of the Galaxy is something known as “Big Bad Guy” syndrome.
This horrible movie affliction spawns when a plot focuses on a particular villain being so big, so bad and so deadly that they could destroy the entire universe in the blink of an eye, just because they can. When we meet too many of these Big Bad Guys, comic book movies become boring. If you raise the stakes to new levels in every film, then everything just kind of levels off at some point. In this movie, the Big Bad Guy is Ego, man-planet-god-obsessive 70’s one-hit wonder lover who has some seriously downer Nietzche-esque views on life and the universe and whatnot. Ego is played by Kurt Russell but lacks any of the bona fide, Kurt Russell 80s swagger, the kind of cool, bad ass apathy that he doesn’t care what you think of him, he just needs to get shit done.
Luckily, we don’t really care about Ego or his intentions or the damage caused or anything like that. What sparked the lightning in the bottle of the first Guardians of the Galaxy was the clever humor and chemistry among its primary cast, not villains of the week like Ronan or Ego. This sequel serves up Peter and Gamora awkwardly flirting like middle schoolers, Gamora and Nebula fighting like a couple of teenagers, Drax hurtling immature insults at Mantis, Rocket and Yondu sharing their existential angst, and Groot…grooting. We get a new soundtrack, another iconic jailbreak scene, and some cool intergalactic spaceship battles and some Sylvester Stallone. No new surprises greet us on this new Guardians trip, but there’s still enough familiar delights to get us to visit again.