I get it. You come from a large, Irish Catholic family. My family is large and loud, too, and our gatherings involve lots of food, music, and some not-so-gentle ribbing. We put the "fun" in dysfunctional. Which is perhaps why I enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy so much. A ragtag band of merry misfits join up to save the galaxy, and, in the process, becomes a family. But in this second installment, I was reminded why my big family only gets together a few times a year: a little goes a long way.
Your blood family isn't the only family that you're a part of. When you signed on to write and direct the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, you joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is a family of its own, with a deep hierarchy and even deeper mythology. You share writing credits with nine other people, which means that each Guardian has at least one parent who wrote them with specific backstories, traits, and ambitions in mind. By the end of the first film, despite their differences, Peter (Star Lord), Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot find a common goal, and learn that they are stronger when they work together as a team.
The theme of family – both the kind you are born into and the kind you build – runs strong In this second installment. The Guardians spend much of the film apart, paired up with new or secondary characters, ostensibly so we can flesh out their pasts and better understand their motivations. Gamora takes custody of her evil sister Nebula, a thief with a major chip on her shoulder; Peter finally meets his father, a demi-god named Ego, and enjoys some intergalactic father-son bonding; Drax befriends Mantis, Ego's insectoid empath assistant; Rocket finds kinship with Yondu; and Baby Groot is just goddamn adorable.
But like any family gathering that includes new players – a cousin's new girlfriend, an uncle's "roommate" – the fun of interacting with fresh faces soon wears thin, and you kind of can't wait for the outsiders to toddle off elsewhere so the core group can get the party started.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 starts off strong, with an unexpected action/dance sequence set to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky". This familiarity is both comforting and entertaining. We get Peter and Gamora's awkward will-they-won't-they interactions, Drax's filter-free comments, and Rocket's foul-mouthed, Joe Pesci-esque antics. But when the gang separates, the magic fizzles, and no amount of dazzling GCI, baby trees, or Kurt Russell can keep the momentum chugging along at more than a medium pace.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a fun party—but it's the kind that doesn't know when to end. What I love about spending time with this "family" of outcasts is what I love about my own family reunions; the sarcastic comments, the jokes at someone else's expense, the pop culture references, the witty back-and-forth, and the kick-ass soundtrack. But there are only so many times we can see a group of stone-faced bad-asses walk determinedly in slo-mo towards the camera to a 70s AM radio classic (not to mention the obligatory Stan Lee cameo) before it starts to feel self-indulgent. The film's climax – a buzzing, eye-popping bit of CGI mayhem – feels interminable, like you were trying to justify a galactic budget with every third-act trope you could retro-fit onto the screen.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 suffers from the movie franchise version of middle-child syndrome – attempting to live up to the popularity of it's beloved, older sibling while knowing that a third, possibly more interesting, younger sibling might steal its thunder. It tries a little too hard, but it's still charming, and funny and its flaws can be forgiven, because ultimately, it's still part of the Marvel movie family.
Looking forward to the next reunion,