Before The Avengers became Marvel’s biggest hit (to the tune of $1.5B), Joss Whedon was asked about making Avengers 2 and gave his thoughts on what makes a better sequel. He said that the sequel should go smaller, more personal, instead of just repeating what worked in the first. Then came Avengers: Age of Ultron—it’s not quite the kind of sequel Whedon said he’d like to make.
(Presses fast-forward button…)
Marvel’s favorite A-holes are back.
From the opening title sequence, where they fight the Abilisk to the tune of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” (yes, an expanded version of Star-Lord’s “Come And Get Your Love” number from the first) to the moment Ego reveals himself to be Peter Quill’s father, the Guardians have managed to be the two things we love about them: being the “heroes” they are now known after the Battle of Xandar; and minutes later, the bunch of assholes they were known for before saving Xandar. First, they save the Sovereign the trouble of fighting a giant squid-like battery-munching monster; then on the next, they fight among themselves, crash their own ship, insult, offend and eventually, earn the wrath of High Priestess Ayesha and the rest of the Sovereign—the same people whose precious batteries they have just “saved”.
They’re just being themselves, I guess. Compared with the Avengers’ banter-heavy work-like team dynamics, the Guardians’ we’re-a-happy-family kind of shit (a Ramones reference, by the way) is, just on another level—of crazy. For them, doing the right thing, saving the world or saving one’s own ass isn’t always top priority. They’ll do it for the money, sure, or in exchange for something valuable. Sometimes, it’s just for the simple “Fuck it, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch” reason. And that’s probably why Drax was dangling from outside the Milano, during one of the space battles—just like Han Solo in Air Force One. They’re erratic and unpredictable, and unfortunately for you, Andromedans, they’re the savers of your galaxy.
And that’s the primary reason James Gunn loves these characters so much. Or is it the other way around? That Gunn loves them so much that’s why… Nevermind. There’s definitely a lot of love going on here—in the movie and in making this movie. So much that Gunn made Vol. 2 just like the first—only in reverse. Less on saving the world and McGuffins, more on the characters and their backstories—expanding them, revealing hidden lines, connecting the dots.
Awesome Mix Vol. 2 takes the same dip, highlighting obscure titles and Gunn’s personal favorites in as much as the hits. If the first sounds like some hipster mix-tape you play in front of friends so you’d look cool, the new set is truly your parents’ music. They’re the songs you listen to when you’re alone and misses the times when you’re still small, being with your folks, playing with your He-Man action figures, and the songs your parents love, were playing in the background. It’s kind of sad and beautiful… Like a picnic in the park, or your family watching The Empire Strikes Back at home, on the old Betamax.
So Quill finally meets his old man, a Celestial named Ego, a god with small ‘g’, played by the inimitable Kurt Russell. All those years growing up with the Ravagers, Quill just wanted to play catch with his Dad. On the other hand, Gamora just wanted to end her feud with her step-sister; but Nebula wants something else, actually, she wanted more. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Yondu, the guy who kidnapped young Quill many years ago, vows to right the wrongs he did in the past. While Rocket, still the meanest A-hole in the team, gets to meet his match.
By the end, everyone’s given his/her own “drama queen” moment (because this is what Guardians is all about—the drama, it’s Marvel’s own soap opera), except Baby Groot, who stuffs the movie with cuteness overload and funny one-liners. Yeah. Funny. One. Liners. While Drax mostly serves as muscle and gas throughout the movie, there’s one brief scene, with him and Mantis sitting by the pond, that’s really “touching”.
All this makes Vol. 2 a lot more personal, more intimate. And in a way, smaller, as the movie splits the team in two and focuses on each character’s personal issues. Then, the narratives meet in the middle, intertwine and unravel in the most organic way possible. Nothing here feels tacked on, as all were established, or at least hinted at, in the first movie.
Of course, Vol. 2 also doubles down on the other things we love about the first: dick-jokes (“If what’s between my legs had a hand on it, I guarantee I could’ve landed this ship with it.” “Did you make a penis?” “Yes, Drax, I got a penis.”), jokes about a mechanical eye and really big turd, ’80s references, eye-popping set-pieces, and action sequence set to really awesome music. There’s the Ravagers slam-dancing to “Southern Nights”; Quill and Co. landing on Ego’s Planet to the tune of “My Sweet Lord”; the arcade-inspired Sovereign Fleet with their “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” disco-hive attack, just to name a few.
If all this does not a perfect sequel make, then I don’t know what. A political thriller perhaps?
Then, it all fails—if only because we need to measure it with the same stick we used with the first. Or simply because there ain’t a scene as powerful, corny, kick-ass, funny, and dramatic—all of these combined, as when the Guardians vanquished Ronan in the first movie. If these two movies were a pair of rock albums, Vol. 1 is the surprise smash hit debut, and Vol. 2, is its decidedly different, less immediate follow-up (think about Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton). It’s heavier, deeper, and has more layers. And probably requires—and hopefully gets better with—repeated viewings.
Vol. 2 doesn’t need to better or outdo the first to be the perfect sequel. It is a perfect sequel. I only have one major complaint: I expected Star-Lord to make a giant Skeletor. Or a big blonde Heather Locklear.
*GOTG Vol. 2 mugs from here.