To enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, one must love three things: superhero action films, Chris Pratt with imposing, curled sideburns, and a certain tiny, adorable baby tree.
The first line of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sets the tone for the entirety of the film with the promise of fun: “Showtime, a-holes.” The sequel kicks off with a tiny Groot shakily swaying its trunk and moving its limbs as the music picks up, dancing its way through the opening fight scene and dodging the Guardians as they fight dramatically. This opening invites viewers to the epic adventure and dance party about to ensue. It’s goofy, playful, and colorful, with just enough silliness to walk the fine line between ridiculous and nostalgic. This balancing act is the film’s real superpower.
From the opening scenes, viewers witness the tension the Guardians have bred since the first film. This group dynamic provides much of the film’s comedic relief, although as a viewer it’s at times heart-wrenching to watch the friends fail to communicate and support each other while throwing around insults.
The plot follows Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), as he detangles his relationship with his long lost father while fighting and escaping the enemies he collects along the way. Meanwhile, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) struggles with her relationship with her estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), which proves to be a touching and intricate exploration of sisterhood and friendship.
Unfortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 both mirrors and reproduces a plot like the first film or any of the Avengers films. As a result, this plotline is uncreative, and the feeling of déjà vu never quite goes away. It firmly adopts the Marvel trope in its humanization of heroes and attentive treatment of group dynamics, yet strays in a key department: action. Interestingly, Guardians notably lacks the choreographed, stunt-packed, and uber-creative fight scenes that are the perfect amount of violence and swag on which Marvel capitalizes and viewers gush.
Instead, fight scenes are shot and executed more like video games. The Guardians are no longer fighting people in Vol. 2, but machines. The enemy controlling an individual fighter vehicle gets upset when they have lost because they are now out of the running and a loser in a game. The result is a little comedy relief at the end of a sub-par fight scene. It makes the audience think — for a fleeting moment — about the desensitization of violence. While this may sound like an interesting commentary on the nature of violence in today’s culture, its effect in the film is less profound given that the assertive presence of music and dancing makes fight scenes watch like music videos. Overall, the subject is not dealt with delicately and there’s a casualness and laziness in the violence and war and on-the-brink-of-destroying-the-universe trope.
One place where The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is strong, however, is in its beautiful settings. There are intricate details and scenery scattered throughout the film that seem both impossible and tangible. The sun sets and rises, casting a shimmering, rose gold light on the backdrops of the scenes. The flora and fauna resemble a gilded embroidery of an already shimmering silk. The movie’s canvas manages to outshine the Guardians as they distractedly toss flimsy jokes and low blows against the glittering and elegant scenery.
Even the glamourous wilderness and glitzy skylines, however, cannot disguise the matte script. The humor is obvious, and the discovery that love and family come in different shapes and sizes is predictable and cliché. But the dance moves are exciting and buoyant, and the integration of music seems like a magic ingredient for a sizzling summer movie, especially when the film literally sparkles.
Perhaps the film did not teach us anything new about family or love or unity or togetherness, but it did deliver: the opening promised a party and brought a hullabaloo of a circus. Between the friendships, the shimmering landscapes, and the hilariously understated fight scenes, the film inspires smiles. It bouncily preaches the religion of not taking oneself too seriously and, through it all, to just keep dancing.