“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is on track to be one of the biggest films of the year; having already raked in over $100 million ni the first weekend of its international release, the sequel's domestic release this weekend looks set to shatter records and remind everyone that even the strangest, most bizarre characters from deep in a publisher’s vault can be massive A-Listers if given the thought, care and attention they deserve.
The sequel is a good movie, it really is, but there are several areas where it falls short from becoming a great movie that would be easy fixes for the third part of the trilogy, already confirmed by James Gunn. If Gunn and Marvel Studios take a good look at what went right and wrong with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," and alter their course ever so slightly for "Vol. 3," it could be one of the greatest comic book adaptations of all time.
The biggest problem with the sequel is the escalation of the Guardians’ personalities into near parody, taking the elements of their three-dimensional portrayals from the first film, honing in the bits that people remember the most, and amplifying them. This is often referred to as “Flanderization,” named after Ned Flanders of “The Simpsons” who went from being a polite and devout neighbor to a catchphrase-spitting caricature. Once you know what it is, you can spot it all over the place, from Joey in “Friends,” to Harley Quinn, to Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
Drax suffers the most from Flanderization, possibly because Dave Bautista’s expertly comical take on The Destroyer was one of the most pleasantly surprising aspects of the original film. In the sequel, Gunn and Bautista both lean into the very literal nature of Drax to the point that he becomes unlikable in many of the scenes, especially around Mantis, and the jokes surrounding his misunderstanding of idioms aren’t as charming as they were in the first film.
It’s an easy fix for the third part of the trilogy, and it’s something that needs to be looked at across the board. For example, while Baby Groot is all well and cute, he feels like a completely different character from the wise and protective Groot of the first film, and the team dynamic is upended by the switch. The final moments of the film suggests that we won’t be getting an adult Groot back in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” which would be a shame, as he was perfectly fine as he was in the original.
Another big problem with the film is how often it seems to be afraid to let an emotionally resonant moment land without a joke to undercut the character growth. That’s not to say a Guardians of the Galaxy film shouldn’t have jokes, and plenty of them, but there’s a time an a place. Throughout the film, Gunn seems like he wants to reassure the audience that it’s still a comedy film, and it suffers as a result. The characters are all incredibly strong presences, whether in comics or on screen, but for most of the film, Gunn seems afraid to truly explore their nuances.
However, the final act of the film is easily the best constructed and most memorable, and a lot of that comes from some incredibly strong character interactions and emotional resonance that the audience is allowed to take in and experience fully. Moments between Peter and his father Ego, or Gamora and her sister Nebula, are given way more room to breathe in the film’s final scenes, and the characters are better off for it. Hopefully in “Vol. 3” they’re allowed to have those moments of character developments alongside the jokes, rather than the jokes undercutting the character development.
The soundtrack is such an important part of Guardians of the Galaxy’s popularity, and the decision to score the first film with some of the biggest hits and forgotten classics of the '70s was a masterstroke. Incorporating them diegetically into the film through Peter’s “Awesome Mix” was especially genius in the original. The new film, however, leans way too hard on the soundtrack to coming from within the film itself, to the point that the film bends over backwards to make it work, and it pulls you out of the story.
Characters are constantly referencing copies of Star-Lord’s mixtape that they own to explain why the songs are playing in scenes he isn’t around, and even in scenes where it wouldn’t make sense for characters to have a copy. On the other hand, when Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” organically plays over a climactic scene between Peter and Ego, it allows the message and the themes of the song to contrast with the scenes on screen and benefits from not explaining where the music is coming from at that moment.
One of the best things "Vol. 2" does as a concept is bring new characters into the fold, whether it be Mantis, Taserface or Stakar and his own band of Ravagers. For "Vol. 3," Gunn and Marvel should seriously consider bringing in Phyla-Vell and Moondragon to join the team. Recently, Gunn put himself in hot water by hinting that there could be LGBTQ+ characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but defaulted to the tired explanation that anyone could be LGBTQ+ until otherwise stated, which isn’t representation by any means.
Phyla and Moondragon are both characters with a long association with the Guardians in the comics, and were founding members of the present-day team following “Annihilation: Conquest.” While some of Marvel’s television properties have featured LGBTQ+ characters, the films have yet to introduce a queer character in over ten years of a shared cinematic universe. There’s a narrative hook to the characters too, because in the comics Moondragon is Drax’s daughter and Drax does mention once having a daughter within “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”. Similarly, Phyla-Vell has connections to the Captain Marvel legacy, but could also be introduced as the cinematic Quasar, or even as her short-lived title of Martyr. Both characters have deep connections to the Marvel Universe, particularly to Thanos, and the final part of Gunn’s trilogy could benefit massively from their presence.
I want to repeat: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a good film, but it’s not quite a great film. It’s going to do gangbusters, and it’s going to sell a lot of tickets, as it should. Hopefully, when it comes to crafting the third chapter, Gunn and Marvel don’t lean further into the aspects that make this a weaker installment than its predecessor and instead take the initiative to tighten the bolts and make the franchise the best it can possibly be.