When the first Guardians of the Galaxy blasted into theaters in 2014, it was a surprise revelation. It came out in late July—a certain sign that producers didn't expect much from the movie—and it featured a bevy of second-tier stars playing almost unheard-of Marvel characters.
Three years, a Chris Pratt supernova and three-quarters of a billion dollars later, Vol. 2 won't sneak up on anyone. The movie'll make a mint, and it's a known quantity, for better or worse.
Just that familiarity takes some bloom off this frenetic sci-fi rose. The jokes, while just as frequent, don't have quite the same impact. The action, though duly unhinged, feels like an extension of what we've seen before. Everything feels like it's just a wee bit more than what we saw in 2014, but its impact is just a wee bit less.
The film's problematic content is also incrementally worse, but not gratuitously so. The body count is huge, but the action is strictly by the comic book: a largely bloodless, painless excursion in fantastic excess. The sensual content and asides we see and hear are a skosh stronger. Language? Vol. 2 increases the s-word count from three to four.
So whether you saw or avoided the original Guardians, that choice will likely inform what you do with Vol. 2, because this sequel flies in the same content universe.
But in the midst of that problematic starscape, strong messages of family also emerge. If there is a surprise to be found here, it's in the emotional impact of the story, with moments of true poignancy lodged between the laser blasts and laughs. "We're family," Drax says. "We leave no one behind."
And in the end, it suggests that the universe need not be so cold and empty after all.