Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise smash hit for Marvel Studios. It expanded the Marvel Cinematic Universe into alien worlds and full-fledged space opera, and it proved that even Z-list comic book characters could become household names with a good adaptation. There was really no way that the studio could not release a follow-up, and they brought back the first film’s acclaimed co-writer/director James Gunn to try and top himself. The question is, how do you make something that can hold its own when compared to one of the MCU’s most popular movies? The answer is, you make something like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


So Many More Stories to Tell

Guardians stood out from the rest of the MCU for a variety of distinct factors, including the acerbic characters, emphasis on humor, and space adventure setting. Part of Gunn’s solution for continuing the adventures of the Guardians was to expand on just about everything. Instead of just flying to new planets, they warp through space hundreds of times in mere minutes. Rather than breaking out his whistle-controlled Lazer arrow in one moment of the final battle, space pirate Yondu gets to use it in a hilarious and psychotic extended sequence. Groot is no longer the group’s token nice guy: he is now the token nice guy and a baby who loves to dance.

This “make it bigger” approach extends to the cast well. Most of the first one’s supporting characters, including fan-favorites played by popular actors like Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, are not present here. The exceptions to this — Yondu and Gamora’s cyborg sister Nebula — not only return but have significantly expanded roles. Both of these characters really come into their own, experiencing staggering internal conflicts and dealing with the effects of long-term trauma on themselves and the people closest to them. Seeing them in the first Guardians, you would not have expected Yondu’s funeral to be such an emotional closer for a sequel, or Nebula to have one of the MCU’s best-executed character arcs.

With Ronan the Conqueror dead at the end of the first one and Thanos still plotting his war, this film also features not one but three antagonists (four if you count Nebula, who spends much of the film fighting Gamora). Ego, a highly powerful being and Peter Quill’s biological father, hides a lethal detachment from living beings under a warm Kurt Russell-looking veneer. The Sovereign, a new race of vindictive golden perfectionists, tend to jam themselves into the plot at comically inconvenient moments. Oh, and Yondu’s Ravagers stage a mutiny against him over his perceived favoritism of Peter, and the new captain is a vicious pirate who dubs himself Taserface. The creative team balances these plots elegantly and, best of all, uses all of them to explore the themes.


Of Course, I Have Issues!

The first movie did not succeed simply because it was funny, but also because it said something with its characters. The story is all about a bunch of unstable people (and the perfectly sweet Groot) forming a group. This sounds similar to the conceit of 2012’s The Avengers, but the main difference is that these characters are downright terrible (again, minus Groot). 

Peter Quill was an egotistical man-child who introduces himself by kicking small animals. Gamora was an assassin working for the tyrant Thanos, Drax was a vengeance-driven killer, and Rocket is a violence-prone mercenary. Somehow, they manage to bond with each other and become a family, while saving the galaxy in the process.

The Guardians clearly developed a great deal in their first adventure, but this one goes in an interesting direction by trying to show where their terribleness came from in the first place. As online critic Lindsay Ellis deftly explains in her video essay on the film, the common experience of the Guardians, plus new teammates Nebula and Mantis, is abuse by parental figures. Yondu would beat Peter and threaten to eat him, and later explains to Rocket that he was sold into slavery by his own parents. Thanos forced Gamora and Nebula to compete for survival, and the latter projects her hatred for their adoptive father onto the favored sister. Rocket was created in a lab and is utterly alone in the universe, while Drax lost his family and his people to genocide. Even Mantis, the ward of Ego, is clearly frightened of her master.

Ultimately, all of them help each other process their trauma. The sisters reconcile with hope for a better relationship, while Rocket learns to accept that other people can care about him. Most of all, Yondu sacrifices himself for Peter after finally confirming that he loved him like his own child all along. None of this may be enough for the characters to view the past in a better light, but it may be enough for them to heal, grow, and move forward with their lives.


More Powerful, More Beautiful

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is much deeper than it needed to be. Marvel Studios could have coasted on the success of the first one with a less risky sequel, and James Gunn did not need to prove anything to anyone. Yet he made something that could make audiences laugh and explore mature themes, and Marvel Studios decided to give that movie a $200 million budget. The investment paid off. With two slam dunks in a row, audiences now eagerly look forward to Vol. 3.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Merchandise

Anyone who enjoys Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 can find many different goodies related to the team on Your WDW Store. Show off your fandom with any of our gifts. We are the right place to shop if you want more Baby Groot in your life.

Want to learn more about your favorite rogue superheroes? See our article on the debut of the Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen.