Guardians of the Galaxy 2 review: "A welcome return to the big screen"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Guardians get a welcome return to the big screen, which despite many positives, fails to match the dizzying heights of the original.

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I know what you’re after. Baby Groot. You want to know if Baby Groot is as adorable and cool as the Guardians of the Galaxy 2 trailers have made him seem. Well, I’m here to tell you that he is - the early verdicts weren’t lying when they say he “steals the show” - and if Disney announces a Baby Groot spin-off movie, or a Baby Groot spin-off TV show, or… hell, Baby Groot spin-off bath salts, I have no doubt that it would make a boatload of cash. Who knew that this much heart and humour could be poured into a tiny little twig who only says three words? What a guy. Oh, wait, you want more?

Now that the much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy sequel is here, fans will want to know one thing (apart from Baby Groot); does it live up to the original? Well, unfortunately not. GOTG2 struggles with the same issues all sequels do - how do you recapture the magic of the original when your audience has seen it all before? Sadly, Guardians 2 tries too hard to emulate its first movie and often misses the mark. The one-liners are too obvious, the emotional discoveries too forced, and some scenes from the original are almost completely recreated (yes, really). Having said that, a Guardians sequel which falls short of the dizzying heights of its original is still a damn good movie, and one which fans will be satisfied with, if perhaps a little disappointed.

***Warning: Some plot spoilers to follow in the next two paragraphs. Unless you've seen the movie, pick up from where it says "Plot spoilers end"***

We rejoin the Guardians as they’re preparing to fight an interdimensional battery-eating beast of epic proportions, and the entire opening sequence is a welcome reintroduction to the quirky family. Each character’s moment in the spotlight will make you feel warm and fuzzy, before Baby Groot performs a dance routine designed to steal your heart. As you’ve probably guessed from the trailers, this isn’t the main storyline of the movie though - that’s reserved for Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) Dad, Ego, played by Kurt Russell. Thankfully, the movie wastes no time in introducing him and it’s not long before you’re witnessing one of the weirdest family reunions of all time. It turns out that Quill, AKA Star-Lord, and his Dad are gods (with a small ‘g’) and can create anything out energy and live forever. Less surprising is that Ego isn’t the happy, comforting, wannabe Dad he makes himself out to be. 

While all this is going on, we have the secondary stories of Nebula (Karen Gillan), Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers, and Kismet (Elizabeth Debicki) and her Sovereigns happening (which I won’t spoil here), and while they’re all really good, it means it’s a while before we realise what the main plot is. And then, once we do, we’re simply waiting for the other shoe to drop (Ego to reveal he’s up to no good), which makes the lead up to the reveal unsatisfying. Add to that, the fact that Marvel certainly hasn’t solved its weak bad guy problem with Ego, and you're left feeling the secondary storylines are a lot more exciting and compelling than the main one. It’s not all bad news though, once we’re past the material we’ve seen in the trailers (believe me, it takes a while if you’ve watched them all) it’s back to good old fashioned Guardians action as the team try to take down the living planet. 

***Plot spoilers end***

Where GOTG2 does shine is with its characters… or at least most of them. While Star-Lord and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are back flirting and fighting like they never stopped, their characters don’t really develop any further than they did in the first movie. (Which is saying a lot considering Quill discovered half of his biological family in this movie.) Nebula is one of the strongest characters (second only to Groot), and her performance adds both depth to her tortured history, as well as stronger story foundations to her sister. Russell too is a joy to watch, despite the limited opportunity he’s given, but it’s really his companion Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff, who viewers will be drawn too. Her sweet naivety compliments Drax’s (Dave Bautista) brutal honesty perfectly and the pair form a friendship which is not only hilarious and heart-warming, but truly believable. We discover more about Yondu’s past in this movie too and it’s his performance which really carries Quill’s story arc. 

Surprisingly, director James Gunn has slightly altered the visuals for GOTG2, creating an almost Avatar-esque feel to the sequel. If, like me, you enjoyed the colourful yet slightly battered appearance of the original, you might find these psychedelic visuals overwhelming, but there’s no denying that it looks amazing. The action sequences, too, leave little to be desired as the Guardians find their footing again by working together in their own, haphazard and unique way. And the final few moments, where disaster seems inevitable, bring out the best in each of these characters. Fans will also be pleased to see a variety of Easter eggs which bring the audience in closer without overshadowing the rest of the movie and at no point does the story rely too much (or even mention) the rest of the MCU and what we know is coming in Avengers: Infinity War.

The only negative thing I can really say about Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is that it’s just not as good as the original (and its villain needs a bit of work). And that’s something that’s really hard for any sequel to do. It’s action-packed, it’s hilarious (although I wish they’d held a few more laughs back from the promos), and its characters still shine bright, with a handful of them even putting in stand-up-and-applause-worthy performances. No one is going to watch this movie and think it’s bad - it just proves once again that Marvel is suffering from it’s own success. After all, when you save the universe once, no-one’s as impressed the second time around. 

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Matt Maytum
Editor, Total Film

I'm the Editor at Total Film magazine, overseeing the running of the mag, and generally obsessing over all things Nolan, Kubrick and Pixar. Over the past decade I've worked in various roles for TF online and in print, including at GamesRadar+, and you can often hear me nattering on the Inside Total Film podcast. Bucket-list-ticking career highlights have included reporting from the set of Tenet and Avengers: Infinity War, as well as covering Comic-Con, TIFF and the Sundance Film Festival.