Sequels are a mystical breed of film, where studio vampires suck out every last drop of blood from the original.  While the original film’s magic still permeates popular consciousness, studio heads think sucker punching their audiences to gain money off the first movie’s success creates for great film franchises.  I would love to say that they are wrong.  But Fast and the Furious 7 was just put back in the vault when they decided to release number eight.  And eight has already raked in over a billion dollars worldwide.  Let that sink in for a few minutes.  One Billion dollars.  How could that be possible for a series that almost writes itself?

But for every big hit sequel, there is a huge flop.  Highlander 2: The Quickening . . . anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?   But summer is prime time for sequels.  And this year appears to be sequel heaven, or hell, depending on your opinion of sequels.  Into this world of sequels walks Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

What is Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 you ask?  Well, for those hiding underneath a rock for the last few years, Guardians of the Galaxy derives from the Marvel Comic’s Universe.  I can spend a long time trying to analyze what makes the Disney’s Marvel Comic’s Universe an entirely different animal than the regular sequel.

First of all, I would consider what Disney is doing here not entirely unlike a fantasy world that any good fantasy geek would appreciate.  They are building up all edges of the known universe and trying to make all of them interconnect.  For those in the know, if you don’t get to the very last moment of a Marvel movie, you know that you are missing something.  It’s a brilliant strategy. Even lesser known comics that are turned into movies become essential viewing when you don’t want to miss something that is essential to the overall story arch.

And that was what Guardians of the Galaxy was three years ago.  It was a little-known story taking place on the edges of the known universe.  It has to be the edge of the known universe because Howard the Duck is there.  This meant that Marvel Comics fans needed to watch this film, whether they were looking forward to it or not.  Three years ago Marvel did have some cache, but it is nothing like it is today.  Thankfully for us, back then, Marvel and Disney did not rest on the laurels of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Avengers.  They picked a comic about a bunch of irreverent aliens, joining together to save the galaxy . . . maybe.   But only if they could engage in a little dance competition first.

It was the off the wall humor, with little touches of sentiment that made the original movie so compelling.  And for a Marvel Comic movie that covered a comic that was barely known anywhere, outside of true geeks, to make $333 million dollars domestically was quite an accomplishment.  But it didn’t stop there.  To boot, it sent the career of a lesser known Parks and Rec actor into the stratosphere.

But sequels are different animals altogether.  And to make a successful sequel, you have to deal with all of the baggage that you have from the first movie and somehow transcend it to make a unique film that can stand on its own.  The Empire Strikes Back transcended the original to become a film into itself.  It took the older characters, blended in newer characters, and deepened the story and conflict in ways that the first would never have dreamed of.  Sequels aspire to do just that.  Or they can be Highlander 2.  Your choice!    So how did Guardian’s of the Galaxy Volume 2 fare?  Does it take the brilliant sassiness of the original and kick it up a notch?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

***Spoiler Alert***

In this saga, the crew of “The Milano” (Star-Lords spaceship, and more appropriate for the name of a cookie, or an Italian coffee) has been busy saving all sorts of people from various predicaments.  They have become heroes, kind of.  You cannot strictly call them heroes because they are as likely to pick your pocket as help you with a problem.  Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Voiced by Bradley Cooper), and the now infantilized Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are out there to protect and to serve.

The first thing that they save is a gold faced race (The Sovereign) from the indignity of having their battery power stolen by a monster that looks like a cross between an octopus and an alien right out of the Aliens quadrilogy, or soon to be quintology.  (I’m hoping they stop before I run out of strange series structure names.)  But could they save this race from doom without a little music?  Despite Drax protestations, of course, they can’t.  And the new and improved Baby Groot, now out of his pot, shows off his dance moves while the rest of the Guardians get down to business.

They slay the beast, but they cannot stop there; and, Rocket decides that stealing the batteries they were sent to protect would barely be a blip on these aliens radar.  So their triumphant exit becomes a hasty retreat as they dodge lasers meant to kill them.  Just when all hope seems lost, some man riding the top of a spaceship saves the day as he takes out all of the computerized drones sent to kill the crew.  But they are not out of the woods yet and crash-land on a nearby planet they escaped to, having their ship ripped to shreds.

Shortly thereafter, the man with the spaceship arrives.  His name is Ego (Kurt Russell).  He informs Star-Lord that his dad stands before him.  One might think that this could be cause for celebration.  But Ego hasn’t been around in say . . . forever.  And Peter is not even sure that he can trust this man.  But upon convincing from Gamora, he follows Ego to a faraway planet to find out about his lineage.

While there, we find out many of the secrets behind Peter Quill, including why he has the ability to hold an infinity stone without dying.  And Peter gets the opportunity to connect with his father for the first time.  He has been devoid of parental figures who did not threaten to eat him in quite some time.  All would seem right with the world.  But, of course, it cannot be.  Things need to go completely out of whack before the final credits roll.  And as I do not wish to spoil everything before you watch the movie, I will conclude my summary here.

***End Of Spoilers***

Two things make the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 a worthy progeny of the original movie.  First, they did not lose the irreverence so integrated into the formation of this unique band of misfits.  Drax still takes things literally.  And yet, he loves these space outcasts with all the literalness he can muster.  Rocket maintains a fascination for depriving other people of their limbs and enjoying the result of their turmoil.  Gamora continues to have a love/hate relationship with every person she involves herself with.  Whether with her adopted sister or Star-Lord himself, Gamora’s emotionally stunted love shines through despite her uncomfortability with expressing it in any form or fashion.  Groot, now the team mascot, remains the emotional core of the unit.  And Star Lord’s sassiness, as well as his penchant for loving all things 80s, bonds the emotionally fractured and dysfunctional band into a working unit.

Most sequels would have been happy with this.  You could have continued to allow them to spout off their lines with their inimitable style, and this would have been every other sequel known to man.  But to be something brilliant, the emotional stakes must be raised here.  Guardian’s does not disappoint.  What this film does so well, when you get past the zingers, is explore the notion of what it means to be a family.

Is blood the only qualification when it comes to family members?  How should we treat the family members who are around us?  And while we all fall into roles within a family, are we so entrenched in those roles that we cannot be something else?  Must we be who our families make us be?  In the first movie, the Guardian’s became their own family.  In this movie, we face defining what it truly means to be a family.

The depth of these relationships far exceeds what you would expect from a regular comic book movie.  Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker), the father figure for Star-Lord growing up, connect over their fear of getting close to people.  Gamora and her adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) come to terms with what it means to be a good sibling, and whether you are your sister’s keeper.  Star-Lord, Ego, and Yondu all face off over what it means to be a good parent.  And for Dax, he works out what it means to be a good friend with Mantis (Pom Klementieff).  It all comes down to communication.  We communicate our feelings occasionally through words, but mostly through actions.  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Guardians explores what this love looks like in the most complete sense.

In sequels, everything is turned up a notch.  But what makes Guardians amazing rests at the heart of the picture.  The exploration of relationships broadens our understanding and deepens our affection for the characters.  In the midst of this exploration, the creators invite the audience to participate.  They want us to be part of the experience.  The audience has been inducted into a family: the Guardians of the Galaxy family.  And for my part, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Go see Guardians, before your sister, brother, best friend, cousin and mother-in-law see it and spoil the whole plot for you.  Because you know they will.

4 – Stars

Continue the Conversation

I know it’s summer blockbuster season out now.  With Guardians of the Galaxy, we have officially kicked off the crazy sequels season when it comes to movies.  I am curious, what new movies are you looking forward to seeing?  Is there a particular sequel that you really want to see?  And what sequel that is coming out are you dreading watching?  As for me, I think there isn’t a movie I am particularly dreading.  I am curious as to the Cars 3 movie though.  I did love the first one.  And while I didn’t hate the second one, I am not sure a third one needed to be made, unless it went straight to video.

The studio could be trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.  But then again, Pixar is the studio that made Toy Story 3.  How many of you people cried at the end of that one?  Be honest!  If they can do that at the end of a trilogy, can I really say that it’s purely mercenary?  I, for one, am curious to find out.

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So until next time, “I Am Groot!”

David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life