The Number One Movie in America:
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
By Sean Collier
April 15, 2019

Drax is everything.

“Guardians of the Galaxy,” the tongue-in-cheek space epic that expanded the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was something of a surprise at the box office. While Marvel had certainly begun making lots and lots of money, the ensemble adventure was something of a test: Could wrap a feature around completely unknown characters — including a monosyllabic tree and an angry raccoon — and still produce a smash hit?

The answer, obviously was yes. “Guardians” made $333 million domestically and another $440 million around the world, made stars of its previously anonymous heroes and moved a boatload of merchandise. (It also greatly boosted the Spotify stream counts for a lot of A.M. Gold.) For a while, it was the #3 on the Marvel scoreboard, with only “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3” grossing more. It was an unqualified smash hit.

Its sequel did even better.

“Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2” kicked off Marvel’s trio of 2017 comedies, grossing $389 million domestic and a global total of $863 million, putting it in the 70 highest-grossing global hits of all time.

The second adventure of Star Lord, Gamora and crew upped the stakes, complicated the plot and leaned even more heavily into the comedy that made its predecessor a slight anomaly in the MCU. True, all of Marvel’s slate has used humor well, but the first “Guardians” was different; this wasn’t a superhero movie with comedy, it was a superhero comedy. The sequel made that subgenre even more of a priority, with many of the film’s most memorable moments — let’s be honest, Groot trying to find Yondu’s fin is the highlight — being extended gags.

It also set the tone for that year’s trilogy of more comedic outings, as both “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Thor: Ragnarok” offered similar levels of humor. (“Ragnarok,” especially, is pretty much an outright comedy.) To a certain extent, this full calendar year of comic relief seemed a bit odd at the time; was Marvel just about laughs, now?

In retrospect, the motivation is clear: They knew what was coming in the summer of 2018, and wanted us to lower our guards. I’d say it worked.

All of that was in the future, however, when “Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2” premiered. Its success, I think, can be attributed to a pretty simple formula: The characters had become pop-culture icons, thanks to savvy marketing and merchandising, in between the two films; the prior year’s “Captain America: Civil War” had further increased interest in the overall story of the MCU and the impending battle with Thanos; the marketing was great; and, after “Doctor Strange,” the audience was hungry for a more light-hearted Marvel experience.

“Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2” certainly works, although it suffers from a central storyline that is less interesting than the drama around it. While setting up for “Infinity War” and a battle with a father figure who wanted to obliterate much of the universe, the second Guardians adventure ... was a battle with a father figure who wanted to obliterate much of the universe, as Peter Quill meets his god-father (the hyphen is important) Ego and learns of his cosmically important parentage. Parts of this work — the brief period where David Hasselhoff takes over for Kurt Russell as Ego is brilliant — but the overall story is a bit tired, another daddy-issues slog in a genre full of them.

Much more effective is the battle for understanding between estranged sisters Nebula and Gamora, thanks in large part to brilliant performances by Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan. The inciting incident, where the Guardians save a humorless species only to draw their ire when Rocket robs them, gives the movie its thrust; there was more than enough plot there without Quill figuring out where he comes from.

Such quibbling is beside the point, however; “Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 2” is just plain fun, a technicolor jukebox of a good time. More than simply prove that it can elevate lesser heroes, Marvel has demonstrated that the brand isn’t really about the characters at all — it’s about the universe itself, and everything the mega-studio can do with it.

Oh, and we got through this whole article without delving into the James Gunn issue, which is a pleasant change of pace.