Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in cinemas from 28 April 2017
In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy unexpectedly delighted critics and went on to take more than three-quarters of a billion dollars at the box office. With its focus on lesser-known Marvel comic book characters, writer-director James Gunn’s film became a cool cult hit and a commercial success, proving popular with families and fanboys alike.
Some of this popularity could be attributed to the cosy familiarity of its premise. After all, a gang of wildly different space misfits thrown together to save the galaxy has been the bedrock of countless sci-fi films since Star Wars (1977). Some too could be attributed to a vibrant soundtrack of beloved, mainstream 1970s and 80s rock tracks. But mostly, Gunn’s tale of Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his ragtag bunch of well-meaning miscreants is packed full of brilliantly funny and interesting, exciting characters, from mischievous raccoon pilot Rocket (Bradley Cooper) to Groot (Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree with an amusingly limited vocabulary.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is less a traditional sequel than a pumped-up, party-starting continuation of its predecessor. Giving hulking warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) its best lines, the sophomore part of a planned trilogy is funnier and even bigger than the first film, but still has plenty of emotional punch. Scenes between mysterious human-shaped alien Ego (Kurt Russell) and Quill, alongside battling sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), ensure there’s more to proceedings than just haha-bang-bang.
For the many who will enjoy Vol. 2, there are several key features that have influenced the film, whether by accident or design. Familiarity with the five films below can only add to the fun you have with it.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Director Quentin Tarantino
One of the best and most memorable aspects of Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel is its warm, nostalgic use of commercial rock and pop music from the 1970s and 80s. The first film opened in spine-tingling fashion with 10CC’s swooning ‘I’m Not in Love’, but the song most fans remember is Blue Swede’s ‘Hooked on a Feeling’, which – more than two decades before – also featured on the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s scorching bank-heist-gone-awry debut.
But aside from the general unearthing of bygone FM hits, Vol. 2 apes Reservoir Dogs in two specific tune-related ways. Firstly, there are several scenes comprising mid-shots of lead characters slo-mo walking to pop music just before all hell breaks lose (‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac is among the hits utilised). One could argue that this technique was invented for modern cinema in Reservoir Dogs, where the credit sequence accompanied by the George Baker Selection’s ‘Little Green Bag’ is soon followed by bloody carnage. Secondly, the repurposing of a pop song’s lyrics in ways that were unintended by its writer is something familiar from Tarantino’s work. Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ infamously got the Tarantino treatment, while Vol. 2 sees ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)’ by Looking Glass discussed in amusing depth by Ego (Kurt Russell) and Pete/Starchild.
Speed Racer (2008)
Director The Wachowski siblings
Vol. 2 replicates the audiovisual feel of Speed Racer by incorporating lightning-paced action, waves of booming, screeching noise and retina-bleaching CGI without actually being much like the Wachowski’s mid-career box-office bomb. What the films do have in common is an extraordinarily precise, vivid and detailed visual aesthetic. Each frame of the earlier film – about a racing driver mourning his brother who tries to fight against race fixing – is packed with almost viciously bright colours and costumes. In particular, the race scenes snap, crackle and pop with an insane pop-art freneticism. If anything, Gunn’s film takes the idea, shoots it into space and enlarges it to universe-size. A space-pirate funeral is a galaxy-straddling fourth-of-July-firework spectacular, while a paradise planet is teeming with stunning vistas capped by golden horizons. Everywhere on screen, minute details constantly tie in to the overall visual extravaganza. More is more, and no one watching feels short-changed.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller
The Phil Lord and Chris Miller partnership is known for its remarkable cinematic alchemy: take a ridiculous idea and make it work brilliantly while turning a huge profit. Having co-directed the bizarre but fun animation Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), the pair took on 21 Jump Street, a reboot of a 1980s TV series that launched Johnny Depp but wasn’t particularly missed or deserving of reinvention. In comedy, timing and tone are everything, and throughout the story of two bungling cops who go undercover in a high school (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, both fine comedy actors) jokes land with skill and pace. The riotously funny and relentlessly silly bitchfest of 21 Jump Street, replete with knowing jokes, pop culture references and crude asides is mirrored in Vol. 2. Marvel films have got funnier over the years, with the original Guardians a series high until now.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Director George Miller
Peter Quill became the Star-Lord after blue-skinned ne’er do well Yondu Udonta kidnapped him as a child and dragged him around the galaxy forcing him to steal. Yondu and his unmerry band of space pirates, the Ravagers, are a mean, uncompromising bunch with a natty line in grunts, snarls and steampunk couture. The Ravagers figure more prominently in Vol. 2 than the inaugural Guardians offering, looking and acting like the tooled-up crazies chasing Max and Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. In George Miller’s extraordinary chase epic, the slave-soldier ‘War Boys’ use spikes, cannons and turbocharged death-trucks on their top-velocity mission. Yondu makes do with a deadly arrow controlled by sound waves and is a far more efficient and decisive killer.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Director Scott Derrickson
A somewhat underrated phantasmagoria, Doctor Strange was the first truly psychedelic comic book film adaptation. Aside from its plentiful use of the collapsing city mirror images first used to jaw-dropping effect in Inception (2010), the Benedict Cumberbatch-led romp about a genius surgeon who ruins his hands in a car accident includes whole sections of mind-bending narrative trickery. Time reverses, repeats, slows and stops, and not always for everyone on screen. Vol. 2 includes broad similarities in tone and look throughout but goes particularly psych at its brain-melting denouement. Viewers may also be reminded of 80s fare such as Altered States (1980) and Innerspace (1987) in this eye-popping battle scene, which is amped up to infinity.