With the success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was greenlit and this was done before the film had even been released. It was a risk, but clearly one that the Studio Execs felt was going to pay off. It wouldn’t be until a year later (2015) that the sequel received its official title – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 – which was a perfect fit with the story being told and the lived experience of main character Peter Quill. During the course of Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter (and by extension, us) is listening to a mixtape created for him by his mother Meredith titled The Awesome Mix before finally opening a long un-opened gift containing The Awesome Mix: Volume 2. Before media was released in “parts” (looking at you Quiet Place Part 2) it was released in “volumes” so not only does the title serve as a nod to Meredith but it also helps to immortalise an era of history.
The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 picks up a few months after the events of the original, with The Guardians on a mission for the Sovereign race, whom Rocket ends up betraying by stealing the very items they were hired to protect. Whilst on the run, the crew are saved by Peters long-lost father Ego, and his assistant Mantis, who take the crew – minus Rocket, Groot, and a captive Nebula – to his planet, where they learn some very dark secrets. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot, and Nebula are taken prisoner by the Ravagers who have been hired to hunt them down by the Sovereigns, before a mutiny breaks out amongst the crew when Yondu refuses to deliver them. A friendship quickly forms between the former Ravager captain and Rocket, forming one of the 3 core relationships on which the film stands.
The emotional/familial throughlines here aren’t just confined to Yondu and Rocket, although I find theirs to be the most interesting. They are both snarky and aggressive characters who feel alone in the universe, despite having teams around them. Watching them cut through each others’ tough exterior to the emotional vulnerability beneath provides an explosive conflict different from any of the other relationships in this film. We witness the formation of a lifelong friendship where they feel like they can only be honest with each other, and seeing this friendship ended so quickly is truly heart breaking. Yondu is at the core of another relationship with Peter, where they have a father/son bond, although this is mainly explored through Peter’s new relationship with Ego. He can’t understand why his father would abandon his mother, but desperately feels the need to have him in his, life while Ego clearly abandoned her for for selfish reasons and hates himself for ever falling in love. They both want something that they feel they deserve, but neither is willing to give in to the others’ requests. Eventually, Peter learns that he has had a father figure in his life in the form of Yondu, who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Peter can survive. This death is a massive gut punch, because Peter is losing a father and Rocket is losing a friend. Lastly is the relationship between the adopted daughters of Thanos: Nebula and Gamora, who were pitted against each other and tortured their entire lives. Those feelings finally come to a head, and they explore them the only way they know how… through violence. This is never depicted as abnormal, and feels like the way in which this family would resolve its issues because every family will deal with issues differently and that is okay. The original Guardians of the Galaxy had heart and writer/director James Gunn doubles down on it here.
The continuity of the larger MCU is more present here than in the previous instalment and, whilst rare, is incredibly important. Chronologically this is Marvel’s 10th film but it was released 15th which means that there were originally 4 Earth-based films between the volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy. It flows much better one after the other. Avengers Assemble introduces us to the dangers present in space, and it feels like the following films (Thor 2, Guardians 1 & 2) explore that theme. Possibly the largest piece of continuity comes in the form of the Stan Lee cameo, which is something that I have so far neglected to mention in any of my MCU reviews. He has had a cameo role in every single Marvel property which, by 2017, had led to a very popular fan theory. In the comics, there are a group of supernatural beings known as The Watchers, who simply exist to observe the universe, and it was theorised that Stan Lee was playing the role of a Watcher every single time he appeared. Word of the the theory reached Marvel and it appears that they were also a fan of the theory because, whilst he isn’t a Watcher, he is a Watcher informant, and is shown telling The Watchers of his adventures on Earth. He is specifically telling them of the time he was a FedEx delivery man, which isn’t a cameo we have yet seen chronologically as it appears in Captain America: Civil War. I suppose time works differently across the universe. The most important aspect of this role is the part it plays in immortalising the man himself, who clearly cared very deeply about the characters he had created and the fans who had helped make them a success, as an eternal being in the MCU. The second cameo comes curtesy of Howard the Duck, who was previously only glimpsed in the post-credits scene of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. There he was hidden away, almost ignorable, but here he is given an entire panning shot and line of dialogue as if to say “try ignoring this”. I spoke of his legacy in the previous review but that legacy is truly cemented here.
Whilst on the topic of post-credit scenes, I think Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 has the most of any MCU property:
The first shows Kraglin, Yondu’s 2nd favourite Ravager, as he attempts to master Yondu’s whistle-controlled arrow with a head fin. The character has not yet returned but I can’t wait to see how far he has come when he finally does.
The second shows a crew of Yondu’s old Ravager teammates, who had previously ousted him for breaking the Ravager Code, reuniting after his funeral. I doubt we’ll ever see them again but it’s almost comforting to know that their out there, fighting the fight that Yondu would have wanted them to.
The third shows that Groot has grown into a teenager which acts as a nice piece of fluff after a film with some fairly heavy themes.
The fourth shows the leader of the Sovereigns, Ayesha, creating an artificial being to destroy The Guardians once for all, who she calls Adam. This has since been confirmed by James Gunn to be Adam Warlock who, in the comics, became a member of The Guardians himself, and will presumably play a part in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, though this is still unconfirmed.
The fifth and final scene returns to Stan Lee, who is being abandoned by The Watchers although he states that he has so many stories left to tell. This hits a lot harder, having lost the legendary creator in 2018, and I can’t help but imagine the stories that will now go untold or the joy left un-given.
There remains one small Easter egg hidden inside the credits themselves, with the appearance of an as-yet-unintroduced character played by Jeff Goldblum. We will come to meet this man – The Grandmaster of Sakaar – in Thor: Ragnarok, which happened to be in production at the same time as Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, and was released several months after. Given his role as an eternal being akin to Ego, this is a nice little nod and I’ll never turn down a surprise appearance by Goldblum, who always provides entertainment to any project he touches.
Personally, I prefer Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 over Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1. I think that the emotional core is deeper, and I’m a bigger fan of the country-centric soundtrack, which opens with the ever wonderful Mr Blue Sky. The film resonates with me on an emotional level, but still manages to pack in plenty of action. The visuals are also stunning, from Ego’s Planet to the Hyper-Jumps to the display at Yondu’s funeral. The whole MCU falls under the action/adventure umbrella, but the moments when it shines the brightest are in the moments of character growth, which this film has in spades. I think this is one of the franchise’s crowning achievements, and I’m delighted that Disney finally re-hired James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 after unjustly firing him.