The Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War #15: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Welcome to our Marvel movie countdown to Avengers: Infinity War.

Between 1st January and the film's release on 26th April we're recapping one Marvel blockbuster a week, which means you will be fully up to speed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by the time Infinity War arrives on your screens.

We're continuing this week with the return of Star-Lord and his crew in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2...

The story...

Following the destruction of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy, our title characters returned the Infinity Stone to the Nova Corps and jetted off into space. They're now a tight-knit crew, comprised, as before, of Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a rapidly maturing Groot (Vin Diesel), who is growing back to adult size.

When a mission to cheat the golden-skinned Sovereign race goes awry, the group crash lands on a remote planet where they come face-to-face with Peter's father, Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient being known as a Celestial. Peter, Gamora and Drax accompany Ego to his home planet where they meet Mantis (Pom Klementieff), while Rocket and Groot stay behind to fix the ship and guard Gamora's captured sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).

It's not long before Quill uncovers troubling home truths about his apparently benevolent father, and what happened to his Awesome Mix-bequeathing mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock)...

The background

Back in the summer of 2014, the first Guardians, written and directed by James Gunn, became Marvel's unlikeliest success story so far. Defying low expectations to gross more than $770m at the box office, amassing critical raves in the process, it was hailed for triumphantly resurrecting the space opera sub-genre. The Awesome Mix soundtrack meanwhile, a key aspect of the film's emotional backbone, sold over 1.7m copies in the USA alone, and was certified platinum. Star Chris Pratt was transformed from schlubby Parks & Rec scene-stealer into full-blown movie star while CGI creations Rocket and Groot were praised as vital additions to the Marvel canon.

Expectations were therefore sky-high for the sequel. In March 2014, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced his enthusiasm for a Guardians franchise, and co-writer Nicole Perlman confirmed the news of a sequel in July 2014, also confirming Gunn's return. Within a month, Gunn had begun work on a script with a release date of 28th July 2017 in place. Gunn had already fleshed out the backstory of Peter and Ego during the making of the first movie, with the aim of exploring them, plus new additions Mantis and fan-favourite Adam Warlock, in a future instalment.

In October 2014, the American release date was moved up to 5th May 2017 and Gunn confirmed the return of most of the principal characters. Over the next few months, Pratt, Saldana, Bautista and Cooper all confirmed their involvement in the second Guardians movie. Michael Rooker, who plays bounty hunter Yondu, also said he would return, as did Vin Diesel. Gunn looked to beef up Rooker's presence in the storyline, explaining that he wanted to ensure "Yondu's place in everything made sense". Meanwhile, the director said the change from the hugely popular adult Groot to the more mischievous baby incarnation "opened the film up" in a creative sense.

Gunn completed the screenplay on 2nd June 2015 and confirmed the film's title later that month. Pre-production began in Atlanta, Georgia in February 2016 with principal photography getting underway on 17th February, concluding on 16th June. The movie was the first ever to be shot with the Red Weapon 8K camera, and Gunn was obliged to spend three months experimenting with a prototype prior to shooting. Sequences were also shot in IMAX, with extensive interior sets limiting the amount of blue screen with which the actors would have to interact.

At Comic-Con 2016, Russell was confirmed to be playing Ego, leading to widespread fan speculation as to his appearance. (In the comics, he is the literal embodiment of a living planet.) Elizabeth Debicki was also confirmed as Sovereign character Ayesha. But most intriguing was the announcement of action icon Sylvester Stallone, although confirmation of his character, Stakar Ogord, leader of crime syndicate the Ravagers, was only made public close to the film's release date.

Multiple visual effects studios handled the extensive CGI workload, with the opening sequence alone (scored to E.L.O.'s 'Mr Blue Sky') seamlessly comprised of 11 shots. Gunn meanwhile, as with the first movie, provided movement reference for Groot's dancing. Certain effects were handled by Peter Jackson's Weta Digital company, including the destruction of the Ravager ship the 'Eclector'.

Gunn admitted he felt "a little pressure" over the music, owing to the first film's acclaimed Awesome Mix Vol. 1. In August 2014, he claimed to have some ideas about which songs to use, and by June 2015, he had built all the numbers (described as "more diverse" into the completed script. Composer Tyler Bates was announced as returning to score the film in August 2015, with scoring itself getting underway in January 2017. (As with the first Guardians, certain sections of Bates' score were composed in advance of filming so Gunn could shape the movie around its rhythms.)

The movie held its world premiere in Tokyo on 10th April 2017 and its Hollywood premiere on 19th April. The two soundtrack albums – Awesome Mix Vol. 2 and Bates' score – were released on 21st April with cassette and vinyl presentations following later that year. The movie was rolled out in certain territories on 25th April, in the UK on 28th April and in the USA on 5th May.

Standout performance

In a movie stuffed with eccentric and memorable creations, The Walking Dead actor Michael Rooker as Yondu resonates the strongest. A perennially underrated character actor, Rooker's litany of miscreants dates back to 1990's hugely controversial Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, although his blue-skinned Guardians character obviously operates in a more family-friendly manner. Whereas the relationship between Yondu and his quasi-adopted son Quill took something of a back seat in the first movie, here it's explored in more detail and reaches surprisingly moving heights during the climax, a testament to Rooker's performance and Gunn's writing.

Plus, he gets the best line in the whole movie, yelling as he floats down into battle: "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!"

Standout scene

It has to be that utterly infectious E.L.O.-scored opening scene, the perfect way to plug us back into that offbeat Guardians magic. Not only that, it also served as the ideal introduction to the cheekier Baby Groot, a fun-loving stripling who's more focused on his moves than saving his teammates (all of whom are battling a giant alien in the background).

The soundtrack

As with the first Guardians, music doesn't just play a supporting role like it does in so many Marvel movies. Here, it acts as the foundation of the narrative and the characters. Having been left Awesome Mix Vol. 1 by his late mother, the sequel unspools Vol. 2 and it's very much in the same vein infectious 1960s/70s' pop classics. If anything, the choice cuts are more varied this time around, although no less entertaining, with the likes of Silver's 'Wham Bam Shangalang' and Parliament's 'Flashlight' sitting alongside classics like  Sam Cooke's 'Bring It On Home To Me' and Looking Glass' '(Brandy) You're a Fine Girl'. The best moment however has to be the use of George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' as we sweep down over Ego's striking, geometrically designed planet for the first time.

The intensity of the film's action sequences meanwhile, not to mention its expanded scope of characters and locations, allows Tyler Bates to open up the taps with the score. Unleashing an orchestral onslaught of brass and choir in the manner of Avengers Assemble and Captain America composer Alan Silvestri, Bates' score is appropriately swashbuckling. It's also highly emotional when it needs to be, exploiting the string ensemble to maximum effect during key moments of pathos, particularly when Peter learns the shocking truth about what happened to his mother.

And then of course there's the injection of The Hoff during the end credits...

Stan Lee cameo

Post credits scenes

Did you know?

  • Glenn Close filmed scenes of Nova Prime, but they were cut due to time constraints.
  • Matthew McConaughey was considered for the role of Ego, but turned it down to make The Dark Tower instead.
  • Stan Lee's cameo in this movie was among four he filmed in one day, to cut down on travelling.
  • Gunn also directed Stan Lee's cameo appearance in Doctor Strange.
  • Vin Diesel used his own voice for Baby Groot without the need for pitching effects or distortion.

General observations

  • James Gunn revealed that he and producer Kevin Feige wanted David Bowie to appear in a cameo, before his death on 10th January 2016.
  • Unlike in the first film, Bradley Cooper this time recorded his voice for Rocket while wearing a motion capture rig, to better synchronize the voice and facial expressions.
  • The Sony Walkman headphones used in the movie were all built from scratch, as the ones used previously were broken and Sony had none others available.
  • The opening Baby Groot dance sequence took visual effects artists two years to complete.

What the critics said

  • "Just like the first one, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a winning and wonderfully relatable gem of crazy." – Brian Truitt, USA Today
  • "Vol. 2 still has the loosey-goosey feel of a rogue epic that the kids made when the grown-ups weren't watching. Only a turd blossom could resist it." – Pete Travers, Rolling Stone
  • "The reunion of the Guardians cements Pratt's mega-stardom. He has a shaggy young Kurt Russell vibe (think Big Trouble in Little China). And Russell himself is a great addition to the ensemble, providing a dose of kick-back, kick-ass action." – Thelma Adams, New York Observer
  • "There’s plenty to enjoy here, whether it’s the perfectly deployed Baby Groot moments, or a general strain of anarchic weirdness that runs all the way through the credits and which still feels unique to this franchise, not just within the MCU, but blockbusters in general. It’s easy to overlook the odd off note when a mix is this awesome." – Chris Hewitt, Empire

Next time...

Spider-Man: Homecoming

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