Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 review: Breaking formula and hearts


The highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been unleashed to US audiences. Building on its characters using laughter and tears, it’s everything we hoped it would be.

I’ll just say this right off the bat: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks from formula.” Okay, Steve, this is a big Hollywood production. How in the world does it break from formula!? To get my point across, let me start with a quick rant about film snobs (the usual type of people who would counter my observations). When people talk about “formula,” they use a very superficial definition. The usual conversation goes like this:

Guy Who Loves Fun Movies: Hey, man, did you see XYZ? It was awesome!

Film Snob: No, I prefer to not watch formulaic films.

GWLFM: Um, this isn’t really formulaic. It’s very different. Yes, it has visual effects, but the film was very compelling and emotionally satisfying. It also tells the story in a very unique way.

FSN: Did it cost $100 million to make? Was it a big production with big-name actors? Like I said, I’m not that impressed with formulaic movies. I like movies that have emotional depth, made with real actors, and with a script that has something to say.

GWLFM: Other than having a large budget, how is XYZ different from what you just defined as “not formulaic”?

FSN: You know what I mean … XYZ is dumb … it’s a Hollywood film.

That’s usually the conversation you’ll hear when certain pretentious critics want to poo-poo on anything that isn’t indie or made on a micro-budget. Granted, they’re perfectly entitled to their own opinions, but they usually have no real reasoning behind them—other than they want to hate mainstream things and sound cool and different.

Film snobs will sometimes bring other excuses to the table, but they usually don’t dig deep enough to give a real analysis of what they’re trying to get at. I’m here to tell you that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks from the usual pattern of Hollywood storytelling—and it works.

Yes, it has amazing visual effects, a lot of laugh-out-loud humor, and high-octane action. However, the film’s use of those elements breaks from tradition—it breaks from the three-act structure and goal-oriented tradition of Hollywood narratives.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s goals are the theme. That’s right, the goals don’t carry the message—the characters wear their emotional needs right on their sleeves. And what is that theme? It’s the definition of “family.”

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In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, the team had to save Xandar by preventing Ronan from acquiring an Infinity Stone. Along the way, they learn that they’re not that much different from each other. After saving the planet, the five see each other as kin.

In the sequel, the team functions like a team of siblings—they love each other, but bicker like there’s no tomorrow. Their escape from a mission gone slightly wrong (thanks to Rocket’s kleptomania) leads them to question their relationship.

Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt), a.k.a Star-Lord, soon runs into his father, Ego (played by Kurt Russell). Peter is elated and finally feels a sense of belonging. As other members of his team question Ego’s real goals, they also see Peter drifting away from them.

It isn’t just Peter who has familial issues. Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (played by Karen Gillan)—sisters by way of Thanos’s abductions—continue their rivalry, with the end result showing Nebula’s vulnerability and emotional depth.

Yondu (played by Michael Rooker), who was an initial antagonist (and later, semi-anti-hero) in the first film, also grows here. The audience gets a very long-awaited payoff. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the Ravagers incessantly questioned why Yondu had a soft spot for Peter. In Vol. 2, we finally see the reasons, and the concluding scenes will make any grown man cry.

You see, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s goals are just that—getting the family back together and just surviving. Yes, they had to prevent Ego from exacting his ultimate plan, but that seemed very secondary to their goals of saving each other.

Though some may feel that the film hits audiences over the head with the theme—because it is the goal—the writing is slick enough that it works. Bolstered by fun performances and great humor, the film also adeptly gives audiences a roller coaster ride of emotions.

That’s right. As emotional as the first film was, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ups the ante. I wondered to myself the reasons. During my viewing, I came up with the answer: clashing moods.

Director James Gunn (who also penned the screenplay) plays a very skillful slight-of-hand trick on the audience. For every hilarious, awkward scene, he matches it with a deep emotional revelation. This contrast functions like someone eating a spoonful of sugar and then quickly sucking on a lemon—you get hit hard and fast.

I found myself laughing one second and then suddenly needing to check my manliness license. You know that feeling: it’s the one where you see a sad scene and your heart feels like it’s in your throat. You keep swallowing, hoping that it’ll somehow push down the flood of tears.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks away from formula and, at the end, makes us break down—in a good way. This is the “feel-good, feel-bad” movie of the year. If you want to watch a movie this weekend, go see everything else that’s been released. If you want to experience a movie, go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. You might look like a crazy person laughing and tearing up, but it’ll probably be the most cathartic thing you’ll do this summer.

Next: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 post-credits breakdown

Production Details

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2—Official Synopsis

"Set to the backdrop of “Awesome Mixtape #2,” Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released on May 5, 2017

It is directed by James Gunn, written by James Gunn, and stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Sean Gunn as Kraglin Obfonteri, Glenn Close as Irani Rael, Nathan Fillion as Simon Williams, Tommy Flanagan as Tulk, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, Kurt Russell as Ego, and Sylvester Stallone as Stakar, with Chris Sullvian as Taserface, and Steve Agee as Gef.