As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.
The adventures of the Guardians continue! Even though it was released a few years later, the action of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first film. There isn’t much about vol. 2 that intersects with other MCU stories, but it is one of the best, most fun films of the 11 years this train has been running. Definitely not to be missed!
Heroes: The Guardians of the Galaxy
Nebula: All any of you do is yell at each other. You’re not friends.
Drax: You’re right… We’re family.
The Guardians are:
- Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord
- Drax the Destroyer
- Rocket Raccoon
- Yondu Udonta
Our misfit space pirates add a couple more weirdos to the crew in volume 2: Nebula, Gamora’s half-robot chaotic neutral sister; Mantis, an insect-lady with no friends; and Yondu Udonta, Peter’s adopted pirate captain Dad, who uses a telekinetic mohawk to smite his enemies.
“I need to fulfill life’s one true purpose… To grow and spread, covering all that exists until everything is… me.”
Ego is a celestial – a being of pure creative power who is as old as the universe. Ego isn’t confined to a body – his power center is a huge brain around which he has created an entire planet as a body. He also occasionally makes himself a bipedal man form that looks like Kurt Russell and happens to be a megalomaniac.
Villain Complexity Rating: 4/5
As he came into being and self-awareness, Ego’s first impulse was to find other living things and connect. Unfortunately, he found the other life forms he encountered were all a let-down compared to himself, clearly the perfect apex of all life. So, he decided that his purpose – the meaning of his existence – was to improve the universe by transforming all life into extensions of himself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the human-like form he chose is a white man. Right!? METAPHOR. Seriously though, it’s interesting that a being so ancient – whose initial impulse was to connect with others – went so crazy through his quest for self-understanding that he decided that the only possible reason for existing was to eliminate all life except for himself. Sounds pretty lonely.
Oh, and ALSO – very important. Ego has been planting little extensions of himself on planets all over the universe AND mating with various alien life forms with the hope of producing a child who is powerful enough to help him with his universal expansion project. Our Star-Lord, Peter Quill, is one such prodigal son (which explains why he could hold the infinity stone… remember?).
“What’s at Stake” Rating: 5/5
If Ego gets his way, the thousands of planets he has visited since the beginning of time – including earth – will all transform completely into Ego, annihilating all other forms of life. So not TOTAL universal extinction, but really, really bad.
What did our hero(es) learn?
Our outcasts learn to claim one another as family, which means a little something different for each of them.
Heroism Rating: 3.8/5
Our heroes are SO MUCH MORE heroic in the sequel! They hardly do anything bad (with the exception of Rocket, who can’t help but steal from those Golden Sovereign tightwads) and they’re always saving each other’s lives. Quick roll call:
- Gamora: 4. Takes down the interdimensional monster, generally has the strongest moral compass and intuition. Lives saved: 1 (though she tried to save Peter too).
- Peter Quill: 5. Embraces his celestial power in order to fight a God, willing to sacrifice his own life in the process. Lives saved: all of em.
- Drax: 3. Throws himself both into the interdimensional monster’s mouth and out of the back of the spaceship during the Sovereign space-fight. Lives saved: 1.
- Groot: 5. He blows up Ego’s brain and saves the universe. Way to push the right button, buddy. Lives saved: everyone.
- Rocket Raccoon: 4. Though he is still the biggest shithead of the group, Rocket saves the day in so many ways – it is his bomb and plan that makes it possible to take Ego out, and he over and over again is the strategic genius of the Guardians’ tricky plans. Lives saved: ALL.
- Nebula: 1. Though she does a bunch of shitty stuff, Nebula works with Yondu to power a super laser blast that takes out a whole Sovereign fleet. So overall, positive – barely. Lives saved: 1.
- Mantis: 3.5. Though she is vulnerable and unsure of herself, Mantis risks her safety to let the Guardians know that Ego is dangerous and takes him on directly by harnessing all her power to put him to sleep.
- Yondu Udonta: 5. Flawed and rough on the outside, Yondu pushes Rocket into his reckoning with emotional alienation, comes to the Guardians’ rescue in their fight with Ego, knowingly sacrifices his own life to save Peter’s, AND tells him that he loves him and is proud of him before he dies by freezing to death in space. Lives saved: 1.
Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 5/5G
The visuals in Guardians vol. 2 are crazy good. It is baffling that two of the most important and empathetic characters are entirely computer-generated and I almost completely forget – they look so good! Rocket is especially amazing… his eyes are so bright and alive, and in a movie with deep emotional pockets, it is his face with a tear rolling down his fuzzy little cheek that brings the heart-punch of this movie home. Each different world has a shiny, colorful reality that is uniquely its own. From the interdimensional tentacle monster that roars in rainbow confetti flames to the all-gold metallic Sovereign high court to the neon sexbot bordello and Ego’s planet of watercolor-glazed flora high towers and classical courtyards to the ornate palace full of rubber comic storytelling eggs… each change of scene is a brightly imagined delight. The action – whether in space or inside a planet-god – is easy to follow and, like The Avengers, meaningfully contributes to both the story and the characters’ journeys. Like the first Guardians, vol. 2 shines many times with unexpected beauty, which plays an important role, planting the impact of the story deep into your heart.
Heroic Cinema Saturation Index
Betsy Rating: 5/5
I love this movie more every time I watch it. In the first few minutes, it is so clear that the Guardians have really made each other their home. The action takes off into bonkers territory quickly, and as we’re dazzled by the strangeness, each character is becoming more interesting and complex – whether through deeper backstory (Yondu); small moments that seem insignificant but that pack a punch (Drax); learning something new (Peter); or just letting two characters interact for awhile (Gamora/Nebula, Rocket/Yondu, Drax/Mantis). The storytelling is so elegant – which is not a word I expected to use about this movie, but it’s true! Storytelling is happening everywhere, all the time – in action scenes, in jokes, in the framing of faces in space, and in the tight AF writing. And there’s so much fun going on – from the gonzo opening credits sequence to Kurt Russell’s gloriously unhinged celestial god-planet villain and the gold fancypants aliens with a high opinion of themselves who can really hold a grudge. The nonstop spectacle and the warm humor work their magic at gradually disarming you completely, and when the third act comes and Yondu is patting Peter’s cheek and everyone is hugging and Cat Stevens is playing and the fireworks are lighting up the sky… I’m completely on board. And also, crying. Thanks a lot, a-holes.
Justin’s Rating: 5/5
The Guardians roll through the MCU this time around with a much stronger villain in Ego, the powermad Celestial who also happens to be Peter’s deadbeat dad. In Guardians I, writer/director James Gunn had so much ground to cover developing 5 origin stories that he skimped a bit on filling out Ronan’s character and the Nova Corps. Here, it’s like he’s making up for lost time. In addition to Ego, the Guardians are also (still) dealing with Ravagers, The painfully severe Sovereign, a vengeful Nebula, and each other. The story is pretty bonkers, but expertly paced so that it somehow never feels too crowded or busy. It does feel fun and funny as hell, even more so than last time.
While Peter spends much of the film dealing with his considerable daddy issues, there’s still room for our other friends to do some growing, especially Rocket Raccoon. Prior to this film, you would have had a pretty tough time selling me on the idea that a CGI raccoon and a man in full blueface could create emotionally arresting scenes, but I’ll be danged if these two didn’t warm my steely midnight heart. I get something in my eye every time the older, wiser Ravager Captain calls Rocket out on his tough guy shit because it’s the same shit he’s been hiding behind for decades. Pow! Emotional realness in a super weird can. Only these films.
Gamora and Nebula work out some of the familial kinks that come with being raised as slave assassins for a mad Titan who makes you constantly fight each other and keeps replacing body parts of the loser with machine bits. Nothing a few decades of family therapy won’t fix lol, but their connection feels authentic and rewarding. New Guardians member Mantis’ empathic ability provides a disquieting insight into Drax’s tortured emotional state, and she makes her first friend ever in doing so. So much feelz. Don’t even get me started on Quill and Yondu.
Guardians II is funnier, more beautiful, better and kicking ass, and has even more heart than its predecessor. It’s got the guts to be as goofy and grotesque as a Troma film but maintains epic emotional heft. The MCU is certainly a much stranger place thanks to these heroes, but it’s also so much richer for all the love they bring into it.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is streaming now on Netflix, or is available to rent online through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores. It’s one of the very best – highly recommended.
Want to come see Endgame with us?
If you’re a Minnesoter and would like to join us, we’re going to see The Avengers: Endgame at 8:30pm at the Rosedale AMC on Thursday, April 25th (opening night). Let us know if you plan to come – the more the merrier.