The Road to Infinity War: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is brutal. When I saw it in theaters originally something felt off about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I walked out thinking that I may have actively disliked it. Rewatching the film now, however, I liked it quite a bit and it’s become clear why it sat so oddly with me that first time around – it’s a savage film both emotionally and in terms of body count. The film is all about familial relationships; family lost and the family we choose. It’s about broken relationships and broken people who try to push away the people who care the most. And yes, baby Groot dances too. But man, this film, with its sarcasm, jokes, and aforementioned dancing, manages to somehow mask its darkness…until you sit with it for awhile.

In my piece on the first Guardians installment I talked about Rocket the Raccoon as a parallel, arguably more enjoyable hero than Peter Quill. In Vol. 2 this becomes even clearer through their conflict. Their similarities and competitiveness put them at odds with one another in a way that threatens to tear their team apart; or at least leave Rocket out in the cold. Again it is a talking raccoon who brings a really moving level of emotional pathos to the film. Rocket’s insistence on pushing everyone around him away and his connection with Yondu are profoundly relatable. Just as one of his final moments in the previous film – the loss of Groot and allowing himself to be comforted by Drax – elicited an unexpected emotional response from me, so did his quiet mourning at Yondu’s Ravager funeral.

Speaking of Yondu’s moving send off, I believe it really speaks to the strength of these films. Peter Quill is our main hero. He’s the leader of the Guardians and his loss of and search for family is a main component of both films; more so than anyone else’s back story. And yet, Vol. 2 especially, is able to find strong emotional beats in all of its supporting characters. Yondu particularly goes through a dramatic journey in this film. We see him vulnerable, desperate, and tender. It’s surprising but manages to also feel completely true to the character thanks to Michael Rooker’s performance. Additionally we see the bond between Nebula and Gamora expand and grow deeper and more complicated. Their relationship is left in such a way that it’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing in the upcoming Avengers two-parter.

Ultimately Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a testament to the rich, unique tapestry that James Gunn has woven within the MCU. In two films he has managed to create no less than eight complex characters we feel a connection with and he doesn’t let them simply be heroic. They make choices we have to wrestle with – Yondu and Rocket’s massacre of the Ravagers comes to mind. He also, in conjunction with his actors, brings a great deal of subtlety and detail to every scene – such as the small moment in which Rocket feels his snout after Ego calls him a triangle faced monkey. These films are funny, brightly colored, irreverent, cut altogether from a different cloth than other MCU films, and yet they bring us deeper into the Marvel fold. Guardians Vol. 2 especially is a shining example of how far and yet how close to home the MCU can take us.