If “Guardians of the Galaxy” was director James Gunn’s Marvelization of “Star Wars,” then “Vol. 2” is his riff on “The Empire Strikes Back,” as the Guardians struggle to stay intact as a dysfunctional family of social misfits.
In this follow-up, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), the half-human, half-alien Star Lord, meets Ego (Kurt Russell), the aptly named cosmic god and living planet. who claims to be his father. Their interaction forces Quill to confront the dark side of his own over-sized ego. Also thrown into the mix is Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), a reboot of the sprouting humanoid and the epitome of innocence, who requires constant parenting from the Guardians.
“‘I love ‘Empire’ — it’s my favorite of the ‘Star Wars’ series,” Gunn said. “Bad parenting doesn’t get any worse than in the first trilogy. The heart of [‘Guardians’] is a family melodrama. It’s a story about the relationships between these characters that we got to know and like in the first movie. And in this movie they learn to treat each other with respect.”
Gunn knew he had to dig deeper and not repeat himself. Feeling looser and more confident, he made what he believes is a tighter and more emotional “Vol. 2” — but still with that signature snark.
“The first one was the story of Peter Quill,” said Gunn. ‘And this is basically a multi-protagonist film with a true ensemble. You look at it in one direction, and think it’s Yondu’s [Michael Rooker] film, you look at it in another direction and think it’s Rocket’s [Bradley Cooper] film, or in another direction and think it’s Gamora’s [Zoe Saldana] film.”
“Vol. 2” adds up to a choice between being selfish or selfless. Yondu, the blue-skinned leader of the Ravagers, figures more prominently as an anti-hero and father figure to Quill. His shirtless, melancholy introduction in a cybernetic brothel also lends a sense of pathos that becomes the through line. And Gamora’s sibling rivalry with Nebula (Karen Gillian) finally delivers their moment of truth.
Yet “Vol. 2,” which doesn’t pull back at all on the snark, still comes back to Quill and his increasing responsibilities as leader of the Guardians. He’s overwhelmed by the power and beauty of Ego’s existence as a living planet (inspired by the fractal art of consultant Hal Tenny and made by Weta Digital). It’s also telling that Quill ignores Baby Groot (a living Emoji) throughout the film, who’s lovingly looked after by the other members of the Guardians.
“You had that strong connection between Peter and his mother in the first movie and in this one it’s about Peter looking beyond himself,” Gunn said.
Ahead, Gunn talks about how he chose the 80s songs for Vol. 2.