Given the critical and commercial success of the 2014 original, there's an incredibly high bar for Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." Rather than try to manage expectations for the sequel, the studio, cast and crew seem have seemed intent on raising them, with star Chris Pratt famously proclaiming it would be "the biggest spectacle movie of all time.”
While we'll have to wait to decide whether the James Gunn film can claim that crown, the embargo has lifted on its reviews, and a wave of initial assessments has come crashing in like the Dark Aster. Does "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" overcome the obstacles faced by so many sequels, and actually outshine the beloved original? Well ... The initial consensus would seem to be that "Vol. 2" is a lot of fun, but it's difficult to shake the notion that it's all been done before, by the same team, in 2014.
Here's a selection of what the critics are saying about "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," which arrives in theaters on May 5:
Chris Hewitt, Empire Magazine: "Driven by the indie, often delightfully deranged sensibilities of its director, James Gunn, 'Guardians' was a joy, combining humour and sci-fi action in a manner that out-Star Warsed most 'Star Wars' movies, danced a jig at the global box office, and became a fixture on many ‘Best MCU films’ lists. In short, we were Groot. But when you’ve lost the element of surprise, following that is no easy task. Happy to report, though, bar a few last-act wobbles and the odd tonal shift, Gunn has done it again, crafting a sequel that keeps the focus on the characters we fell for first time around while pumping up the volume."
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: "Unlike, say, the best space battles in the 'Star Wars' series, the frantic ballistic parrying here often makes the viewer feel as if trapped inside a pinball machine. The attitude toward all the violence and mayhem is mostly good-humored, casual and tossed off, which provokes a few good laughs and chuckles, and writer-director Gunn gets away with a lot of lame stuff simply by moving on quickly to the next gag or explosion. As before, his bluffly cynical, good-times attitude supplies a devil-may-care feel to the proceedings that's quite appealing to audiences. But 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' plays like a second ride on a roller coaster that was a real kick the first time around but feels very been-there/done-that now."
Lauren O'Callaghan, Total Film: "'GOTG2' struggles with the same issues all sequels do -- how do you recapture the magic of the original when your audience has seen it all before? Sadly, 'Guardians 2' tries too hard to emulate its first movie and often misses the mark. The one-liners are too obvious, the emotional discoveries too forced, and some scenes from the original are almost completely recreated (yes, really). Having said that, a 'Guardians' sequel which falls short of the dizzying heights of its original is still a damn good movie, and one which fans will be satisfied with, if perhaps a little disappointed."
Brian Truitt, USA Today: "Just like the first one, 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' is a winning and wonderfully relatable gem of crazy."
Terri Schwartz, IGN.com: ""Vol. 2' tries too hard to lean into what people loved and responded to in the first film. You thought Baby Groot was adorable in the post-credits of 'Guardians of the Galaxy'? Here’s a dozen more over-the-top cute scenes with him. Thought Drax’s lack of self-awareness was great? Here’s him making a bunch of TMI toilet humor jokes. James Gunn plays into the strengths of his characters, but goes a bit too far with some of them; overusing certain gimmicks makes some of the moments lose their punch. 'Vol. 2' lacks a lot of the effortless charisma of the first go-around because it’s trying hard to meet and surpass lofty expectations."
Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: "Alas, in 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,' the gag is starting to feel like it’s getting a bit old. It’s still a good Marvel movie (at times, a very good one), but it’s a come down from the dizzying highs of the first installment. The laughs are still there, but they’re less involuntary."
Bryan Bishop, The Verge: "The script is irreverent, the characters are sarcastic, and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) generates laugh after laugh as the hulking brute with zero self-awareness. But compared to its predecessor, 'Guardians 2' has a hollow emotional core, and the plotting feels clumsy. This movie doesn’t have any real purpose, even as a bridge to other chapters in the Marvel story."
Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "The film wielded the machinery of big-budget franchise filmmaking and trumped it at the same time. So the question of what 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' can do for an encore isn’t really, 'Can it top the first film?' It’s more like, 'Can it be as good?' Shot for shot, line and line, it’s an extravagant and witty follow-up, made with the same friendly virtuosic dazzle. Yet this time you can sense just how hard the series’ wizard of a director, James Gunn (now taking off from a script he wrote solo), is working to entertain you. Maybe a little too hard. 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' is an adventure worth taking, and the number of moviegoers around the planet who will want to take it should prove awe-inspiring. But it doesn’t so much deepen the first 'Guardians' as offer a more strenuous dose of fun to achieve a lesser high."
Haleigh Foutch, Collider: "'Vol. 2' is uproariously funny (it will no doubt be one of the most vocal theatrical audiences you’ll experience this year), possessing the same wit and wonder of the first film with a doubled down intent to explore what makes his heroes tick. But for all its strengths, Vol. 2 can never quite clear the impossibly high bar set by the first film. Part of that, no doubt, stems from the fact that we’ve seen this trick before. We know how it works now, and in a time where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has absorbed and repackaged much of Guardians‘ weirdness, from the strangeness and splendor promised by 'Thor: Ragnarok' to the 80s arcade-tinged logo’s that populate Marvel’s upcoming slate, what once seemed irreverent now seems like the mold."
Written and directed by James Gunn, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” stars Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, Chris Sullivan as Taserface, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Glenn Close as Irani Rael and Kurt Russell as Ego.