This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
CynicalDragon2’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
While my love of the MCU has dwindled a lot, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 still stands as one of the greatest things to come out of the MCU. It's a tossup between this and the first Guardians as which is most people's favorite. In my case you can count me as a Vol 2 guy. While the first Guardians was about a group of misfits and outcasts coming together, the sequel is about that newfound connection being threatened. Not only is there an empire trying to take them down after Rocket stole from them but they also must discover with friction in their own group. Especially with the arrival of their leader Peter Quill's long last dad Ego, who turns out to be a celestial god.
What makes the guardians movies the best to come out of the MCU is they're the most emotionally complex and human movies from the studio. Yes, the movies with a talking rude raccoon and a sentient tree alien are some of the most human blockbusters in recent years. That's part of the power of James Gunn as a creator though is that he's capable of making highly colorful enjoyable stories and then having deeply damaged people as the protagonists. Gunn already showed the guardians to be troubled from their past in the first movie and like any good creator he expands on that here in the sequel.
Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord is probably one of the most tragic characters in the entire MCU. Lost his mother to cancer as a kid, abducted by space pirates, crappy upbringing etc. While he's formed a new family with his fellow guardians the arrival of Ego threatens to destroy that by giving Quill an ideal fantasy that he feels he finally has. Gamora is the one to see through this fantasy because she’s the one who understands Quill the most.
She’s the one he can confide in the most and she’s there to try to help him every step of the way as best she can. She may be a warrior but much like Quill has been dealt a bad hand in life. So, both can understand each other’s pain and try to comfort one another. In terms of superhero movie romances this is probably the best example of it done well as not only do Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt have great chemistry, but the two characters getting together actually benefits both of them having found someone who makes them whole.
Thankfully the rest of the guardians are great as well. Rocket’s another damaged character who continues to show why he’s one of the best MCU characters here with more insight into his character gaining more character depth. Drax may be comic relief but aside from being actually funny unlike some other MCU comic relief characters he is also a good friend and has some really good quiet moments. In particular his bond with Mantis shows off some of his wise side. Speaking of Mantis, she’s a great addition to the series being an adorable soul but also having enough flaws to balance it out with.
The return of old faces like Yondu and Nebula, they've gone from seeming like simple antagonists to becoming some of the most nuanced characters in the MCU. Nebula is my favorite female character in the MCU because of how much development she’s gone through and it all started here. Gone is the one note bad guy I thought I saw and in her place is a scarred tortured victim who longed for that sisterly connection but never got it until perhaps now. It was hard to see this Nebula
Michael Rooker might just deliver the best performance of the entire franchise as Yondu. It’s clear he’s not a good man by any stretch but he knows that and hates himself for what he’s done. Rooker turns this blue skinned alien with a southern accent into an extreme self-hating man whose connection with Quill brings out his humanity. Their relationship may be dysfunctional at best but Yondu is damn proud to call Quill his boy. While he isn’t a MCU protagonist his arc here to finally do something right in his life solidified him as one of the best MCU characters and being more compelling than many of the main leads. I’m thankful I was able to meet Rooker in person because I don’t think Yondu would have been as great if not for his performance.
Of course, I can’t not mention the brilliant Kurt Russell as Ego Quill's dad. Russell has always been an actor I love and his performance as Ego makes him one of the best MCU villains. There’s no moral complexity about this guy. He’s just a pure evil, smug, petty monster who cares for nobody but himself. When people say Omni-Man is as bad as Ego yeah Ego makes him look like he did nothing wrong. Still, it’s so nice to have a MCU baddie with so much personality and Russell seems to be having such a fun time playing this monster eating up the scenery with his slimy despicable performance.
Good characters and acting are always important to a great movie but music is also key and like the first Guardians this has one of the best soundtracks. Each song is a perfect fit to capture each scene’s mood with Mr. Blue Sky for example being the perfect opening credits song.
Aside from being actually funny, unlike recent MCU humor it never comes at the cost of hurting the tone. In fact, the last 20 minutes contain some of the most emotional and powerful moments in the entire MCU. Perhaps the biggest is Yondu’s sacrifice which is still just as sad years later. Yet it shows in his final moments that Yondu wasn’t just proud of himself for finally doing something worthwhile in his life, but proud of seeing the man Quill has become. There's a quote by a man named Soumen Das that goes "family is not always be blood, it is by heart" and that definitely applies here for Quill having discovered his real family.
It’s one of the best endings for any superhero movie and seeing it again reminded me of how I became an MCU fan in the first place. While I may not love everything James Gunn has made, it's still easy to see this is a man who loves comics and superheroes and that passion is on display here. I am not ready to say goodbye to these characters but I hope they get the sendoff they deserve.