James Gunn returned with his brand of kooky, irreverent blockbuster action on May 5 with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. After checking it out for ourselves, The Ringer staff came together (much like a ragtag group of space heroes) to talk about Dairy Queen, the soundtrack, Kurt Russell, and everything else that went into making Marvel’s latest massive hit.
1. What is your tweet-length review of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’?
Sam Schube: As far as my movie universes are concerned, I think I like superheroes more than space pirates I’ve never heard of.
K. Austin Collins: Guardians of the Group Hug.
Alison Herman: There’s an obvious difference between "a Marvel movie that bored comedians did punch-up on in the fifth round of rewrites" and "a Marvel movie that actually wants to be funny."
Daniel Varghese: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 co-opted the themes of The Fast and the Furious. I wish it hadn’t.
Alyssa Bereznak: I have a creeping suspicion that the raccoon had more lines than Zoe Saldana.
Sean Yoo: Even though the first Guardians will be considered the better movie, Vol. 2 takes the crown for being the funniest Marvel movie to date.
Caitlin Blosser: Not a great movie, but a good Marvel movie.
Mallory Rubin: I mean, that wasn’t art, but it was a fine way to spend a Friday night. Why is everyone so angry? Chris Pratt’s still hot. Also, Groot.
2. What was your favorite moment in the film?
Collins: The credit sequence is unimpeachable.
Gruttadaro: The part where Rocket took on the Ravagers all by himself had me hook, line, and sinker.
Rubin: Yondu’s sacrifice. It was extremely cheesy, but so am I.
Yoo: Nothing made me laugh harder than when Yondu, after being told he looks like Mary Poppins, screams, "I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!"
Edmondson: Quill’s "I’m gonna make some weird shit!" upon learning of his celestial powers was both (1) hilarious and (2) the perfect contrast of Quill’s innocence vs. Ego’s evil master plan and uh … ego.
McAtee: The Zune joke was more hilarious than it had any right to be.
Varghese: I thoroughly enjoyed Bradley Cooper’s impression of a raccoon doing an impression of a person who thought it’d be a great idea to call himself "Taser Face."
Bereznak: Definitely the scene in which the twangy blue dude escapes, gets his groove (a.k.a. telepathic arrow) back, and uses it to kill everyone who betrayed him. The mass killing choreography to the soundtrack of Jay and the Americans’ "Come a Little Bit Closer" was a nice touch.
A close second was the scene in which the raccoon uses a bunch of gadgets/the advantages of his rodent form to wipe out approaching Ravager crews. People forget this, but raccoons are sneaky, resourceful, and dangerous animals, especially given their humanlike hands. I felt that that booby-trap scene was a good reminder of what they can do.
Herman: I can’t believe the talking raccoon and the blue whistle assassin got more emotion out of me in one scene than Kurt Russell and Chris Pratt did in like an hour of teary-eyed male bonding. That callout over self-destructive tendencies and low self-esteem was some real BoJack Horseman shit.
Schube: Anything Michael Rooker did.
Blosser: Baby Goot’s failed attempts to understand what Yondu is asking for when trying to break him and Rocket out of the Ravager prison. Specifically, why he hates hats.
Dobbins: I liked the bit when they were looking for tape.
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Rubin: Ego’s diorama show-and-tell session. I’ll never look at mannequins or wigs the same way.
Collins: Those five seconds of Chris Pratt’s cry-face is the closest I’ve ever felt to being subject to A Clockwork Orange levels of behavioral conditioning. Don’t ever do that to me again.
Dobbins: Tie: (1) the part when it turned out to be another predictable Daddy Issues movie and (2) the part when the whole movie looked like someone ate a family pack of Gushers and threw up.
Herman: A good rule for blockbusters everyone sees for the characters and no one sees for the action is to take the climactic, CGI’d-to-hell climactic battle and cut it down by half. This one wasn’t even that egregious by superhero destruction standards; I just didn’t care.
Blosser: Ego, his weird ceramic statue looking display of his human experiences, and his plot to consume the universe.
Varghese: Anytime a character said the word "family."
Bereznak: The heavy-handed impromptu therapy session that went down at the end of the movie. Peter Quill has all these daddy revelations about Ego, Yondu, and blood relatives versus loyal caretakers. He then simultaneously realizes he needs to value his fellow space colleagues. Meanwhile, Gamora and her sister somehow bury their differences and hug it out after spending the whole movie trying to kill each other. It’s like, yeah, we get it: family and stuff.
Yoo: The seemingly forced placement of Howard the Duck. Leave Howard alone!
Schube: The opening scene. I get the impulse to do a cool tracking shot, but the lack of anything non-green-screen made me wild dizzy.
Edmondson: Are we just going to gloss over the fact that Yondu was complicit in the killings of all of Ego’s other children?
McAtee: The constant, distracting reliance on Baby Groot’s cuteness. I get it — he’s marketable. But even Star Wars didn’t lean on BB-8 this heavily (which is why BB-8 is still great).
Gruttadaro: The part where they did a close reading of the song "Brandy" by Looking Glass.
4. Who was the movie’s MVP?
Peters: "I tried to let you down easy by telling you you’re disgusting." Is there some answer that isn’t Drax?
Gruttadaro: Dave Bautista’s laugh makes the world smile.
Yoo: It’s impossible for me to choose between Yondu and Drax, so I’ll give them co-MVPs.
Edmondson: Dave Bautista’s comedic timing.
Schube: Dave Bautista, for playing his one note often and well, and also for thinking that he’s actually in the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Herman: James Gunn clearly realized between chapters what an asset he’d stumbled on in Dave Bautista and adjusted the script’s share of one-liners accordingly. A wise choice.
Rubin: Baby Groot, obviously, though the sexual tension between Drax and Mantis was a surprisingly close runner-up.
Varghese: Avoiding the obvious choice of Dave Bautista (who is delightful as Drax), I’ll say Sean Gunn as Kraglin. I have felt no purer joy than I felt while watching Kirk from Gilmore Girls freak out over the tribute to his fallen captain.
Shoemaker: With all apologies to my dear Dave Bautista, the answer is James Gunn. I don’t think a superhero team movie — or any summer movie with that many moving parts — has been told as clearly and elegantly. If you deconstruct the movie, outline the beats of character development, plot advancement, and information conveyance, and put it in the hands of any other big director, you’d inevitably end up with a hash of bad jokes and CGI that would make Michael Bay blush. Not only did Guardians Vol. 2 hold together beautifully, but the CGI and jokes were good too!
Collins: Baby Groot’s eyes.
Bereznak: I’m not quite sure if there was a MVP. But Mantis was a fun addition. For one, her NyQuil-esque powers ended up helping the crew control Ego at one of many life-or-death moments. For another, amid all the killing in these movies, it’s always nice to have a character who’s around to rep empathy in general.
And while we’re recognizing cast members, I just want to acknowledge the subtle gold nationalism theme that the writers snuck in there with the High Priestess and her fleet of remotely controlled spaceship bots. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that she and her people were the human embodiment of the Trump Tower.
McAtee: Rocket Raccoon. I wish Star-Lord had more to do, but he was off "who really is my father"-ing so much he hardly even drew his blaster.
5. What was the best musical cue? The worst?
Rubin: Best: Kurt Russell celestialsplaining how Ego and Star-Lord are the sailor in "Brandy." Worst: Kurt Russell celestialsplaining how Ego and Star-Lord are the sailor in "Brandy."
Yoo: Best musical cue was Sam Cooke’s "Bring It on Home to Me." It’s without a doubt my favorite Sam Cooke song, and even though it was being played during a nonpivotal scene, it was still used wonderfully. There was no bad musical cue; James Gunn doesn’t know how to do that.
Bereznak: The best was definitely when Peter Quill looked deep within himself for the strength to fight back against his father, and Fleetwood Mac’s "The Chain" started playing. This was a relatable moment, as I often call upon the powers of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham for motivation.
As for the worst? This wasn’t necessarily a musical cue, but the fact that "Brandy" by Looking Glass played such a major role in Ego’s earthling romance was annoying. At one point he literally quoted the song’s lyrics to explain why things didn’t work out between him and Peter’s mom. It was shamefully lazy storytelling, but also a major red flag! I know Peter Quill/Chris Pratt is supposed to be ditzy, but how did he not realize at that moment that his dad was a major celestial fuckboy?
Blosser: It’s a tie for the best: Fleetwood Mac’s "The Chain" during climactic fight between Peter and Ego and Cat Stevens’s "Father and Son" (extra points for the Zune).
Schube: "The Chain" is a great song, but let’s be upfront about the tunes being for the benefit of director James Gunn, not the audience.
McAtee: "Brandy" would have fit in great if the movie hadn’t included a ham-handed monologue where Kurt Russell explains all the metaphors. In lieu of that, I’ll take "The Chain." "Mr. Blue Sky" was the worst; Groot dancing through the opening credits is everything I find forced and annoying about Guardians.
6. Did ‘Guardians Vol. 2’ help or hurt your opinion of Chris Pratt?
Bereznak: I’m starting to miss Fat Pratt. I liked Hot Pratt in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and in Jurassic World, but in this movie he fell a little flat. Maybe it’s because his confidence has been boosted both in this sequel and, it seems, real life? The typical goofiness of his Quill character just feels a little forced these days. I just kept thinking: This is not the man April Ludgate fell in love with.
Gruttadaro: It confirmed what I feared — that Chris Pratt really isn’t a superhero.
Varghese: Not really. To be honest, his performance was one of the least compelling parts of the film. Unless he was making a throwaway joke, I found him fairly difficult to care about.
McAtee: Totally neutral. I actually thought he needed more to do.
Blosser: Chris Pratt will forever be Andy Dwyer to me. I’m still neutral on movie star Chris Pratt. I didn’t see Passengers. Ask me again when the Jurassic World sequel comes out.
Dobbins: He is still the fourth best Chris — it’s fine. Can we talk about Bradley Cooper, though? Two raccoon movies, a cameo in Limitless, and directing Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born? I too would like some Marvel money, but this is literally Bradley Cooper’s biggest credit since Burnt. Please send help.
Collins: You can’t hurt my opinion of Chris Pratt, only confirm it.
Schube: What, like Michael Fassbender is gonna wear a leather duster and carry this movie. (Hang on.) Let Pratt eat.
Herman: Guardians is the only franchise to date, and likely ever, to fully take advantage of Pratt’s abilities as both a beefcake and a goofball, so of course it helped. Not so much that I thought he could sell the emotional heavy lifting of finding and losing his dad in a matter of hours, though. I’m not delusional.
Edmondson: My Chris Pratt fandom dates back to the Bright Abbott days, so there’s not anything that could necessarily hurt my opinion of him. That being said, he was every bit an ensemble player in a movie whose plot ostensibly centered on his character — and the movie was better for it.
Shoemaker: Help. It just about balanced out all the pain this photo caused.
Rubin: Helped, to the extent that confirmation bias of a preexisting love counts as helping. He’s handsome and charming and has a winning sideways smile and nice abs. What’s there to argue about here, exactly?
7. Do you think superhero movies need resonant origin stories or mythologies to be successful?
Yoo: It depends on how popular the superheroes already are before the movie’s release. Obviously characters like Spider-Man and Batman don’t need any more origin stories to be successful — but for the Guardians, many of whom were unknown before the first movie, I believe a resonant origin story is crucial for the movie to have mainstream success.
Blosser: Big blockbuster superhero movies are always going to make money no matter what. But interesting origin stories make for a higher-quality movie. They’re required to explain character and motivation. The origins of the characters in Guardians, from Peter to Nebula to Rocket, add depth. Sure, CGI is fun, but it can’t hold up a movie.
Schube: Mythology, yes; origin story, no. But if "world-building" requires you to animate Sly Stallone’s face with a series of carefully detonated explosive charges, I’m out.
Herman: Of course not, and very often quite the opposite! Why else would the word "Thanos" have the magical ability to grind any scene to a halt?
McAtee: Star-Lord was a great character as just an orphaned space pirate. Now he’s a half-god whose whole life was set into motion by his dad’s pathological need for universe-domination? This was a step backward for Pratt’s character, not forward.
Rubin: To be successful? No. To be compelling and legitimately good? Yes.
Shoemaker: Tough one, because they’re inextricably linked to the form. Batman, Spider-Man, Superman — they ARE their origin stories. The best superhero movies tie the mythology into the plot, so that the narrative has room to breathe. Both Guardians stuck the mythology landing: there’s just enough backstory to let you feel like there’s depth, but not too much to bog down the plot. Every bit of backstory, from Thanos to the Walkman, brings an oddball element of lived-in-ness to the universe.
Collins: Origin stories are just gassed-up psychological profiles. I think superheroes need to start going to therapy, is what I think.
Varghese: Is this a trick question?
8. Sylvester Stallone?!
Edmondson: I would love if somebody could explain this to me.
Rubin: Yeah, great, but where was Lee Pace?
Shoemaker: In another movie, it would seem like a weirdly small part for Sly, even with his uneven recent track record. But in Guardians Vol. 2, when throwaway roles from the first movie — like Nebula, Kraglin, and Yondu — were given starring roles, a guest spot feels like a promise of future significance. Even if that doesn’t pan out, using Stallone in the Clooney-in–The Thin Red Line role, the all-star cameo that conveys a character’s significance by its casting, shows how firm Marvel’s grasp on Hollywood is. And how firmly entrenched the Guardians franchise is in that … er, universe.
Yoo: Good for Sly — he really needed to join a massive movie franchise to fully cement his career. I’m glad to see an indie actor like him finally get the recognition he deserves.
Bereznak: I was very confused when Stallone showed up out of nowhere to talk shit to Yondu. I don’t usually understand what Stallone is saying in movies, and the fact that his few lines had to do with some vague space stuff that went down a while ago made it even harder than usual. But I do think the casting instincts here were great: Who would you expect to start drama at a sketchy robo-brothel other than the Italian Stallion? (Aside from Matthew McConaughey, who was definitely their first choice, and definitely turned the cameo down.)
Herman: I aspire to one day have the business acumen of Sly Stallone’s agent, who got his or her client the same billing for doing 20 minutes in front of a green screen that Kurt Russell got for playing a freaking god.
Collins: It’s a shame we can’t call him "Oscar winner Sylvester Stallone," it really is.
Varghese: Hot take: He was better in Rocky.
9. Do you think you could explain Ego’s (Kurt Russell) plan? Is it a problem if you can’t?
Edmondson: Absolutely. I’m happy to break it down to anyone in exchange for an explanation on what the hell was going on with Sylvester Stallone’s character (see above). Ego’s plan is one of the most twisted villain plotlines of all time, and I’m frankly surprised the joyous Guardians franchise went there. I’m here for it.
Shoemaker: He planted seeds of himself all over the universe, and needs double celestial power to activate them and take over. Does this make a lot of sense? No. But in the grand scheme of summer movie godlike supervillain schemes, this is high art.
Bereznak: I guess he wanted to, like, splooge all over the universe? I know that’s crass, sorry. But there was something obviously Freudian about both his name and his scheme to plant his "seed" in as many women and planets as possible. Also, you can’t deny that the goo substance that covered that Missouri Dairy Queen seemed very suspect.
Honestly, I don’t think viewers cared that much what his evil plan was. They’ve seen enough story lines about rediscovering long-lost space fathers to know that the general outcome of these encounters is bad, universe-destroying stuff.
Gruttadaro: He used a lot of visuals so I think I got it — he wanted to cover the entire galaxy in himself, which was not really Kurt Russell with a flow but a glowing, hardening blob substance?
Collins: I think I got it when I saw all those Kurt Russells mating with all those she-aliens. The second I saw the one straddling his head, it all clicked.
Schube: HIS PLAN IS LITERALLY "KURT RUSSELL FUCKS."
Varghese: The meaning of life is to eliminate all life. Anyone who’s been forced to listen through the entirety of Views in one sitting can understand the impulse.
Rubin: Something involving Dairy Queen, right? (JK, JK: Something involving desperately seeking to find your purpose, then realizing that said purpose involves eliminating petty life instead of facilitating it, then realizing that said elimination hinges on finding a celestial to help boost your brain-light-power thingy, then realizing that you killed all of your other non-magical progeny and need to find your one actually magical baby, then realizing that the actually magical baby is godly because you took his mom behind the Dairy Queen. Right?)
Herman: He wanted to do the space opera version of the "MORE OF ME!" bit from Louis C.K.’s latest stand-up special. What’s so hard to understand about that?
McAtee: I understand what he was trying to do, but I have a lot of questions. How plot convenient is it that he just happens to need one, and only one, other "celestial" to run his operation? Why does he keep all the bones of his kids lying around? Why’d he have to kill Star-Lord’s mom? Why did his human form age if he’s actually a planet? Why, if he can manipulate matter, can’t he just put the "celestial gene" in his kid? This could go on for a while.
10. With two films down, where does ‘Guardians’ rank among the rest of the Marvel franchises?
Rubin: The Marvel-verse is kind of like Yondu’s funeral display to me: It’s all kind of cool and pretty, but it also all kind of blends together in a sea of sameness. Some of those sparks are going to last, and some of them are going to vanish into the abyss, and it’s too soon to say which, but that’s OK, because it’s all nice to look at right now.
Herman: Below Captain America, the stealth MVP and not-so-stealth Swiss army knife of the MCU. (Guardians is great, but can it do an origin story, a genre experiment, and a team-up juggling act? I don’t think so.) Above literally everything else.
Dobbins: Very bottom. Fart jokes and bad CGI: not for me!
Yoo: Guardians is right behind Captain America for having the best trilogy in the Marvel franchise. I understand that the third Guardians hasn’t even come out yet, but knowing James Gunn is back to direct gives me enough confidence to say it’ll be great.
Schube: I miss real superheroes.
1. Captain America
3. Iron Man
McAtee: Above Thor for me, but below everything else.
Blosser: Guardians of the Galaxy is second for me behind Captain America.
Collins: They’re all equally inferior to Unbreakable, so does it even matter?
11. Baby Groot, Teen Groot, or Full-Size Groot?
Dobbins: I left before the post-credits.
Schube: Baby. Too cute.
Peters: Not a single thing has changed.
Edmondson: Baby Groot. Shout-out to the opening action set piece, which focused entirely on a dancing twig and was inexplicably perfect.
Rubin: Baby Groot, forever and always. The problem with making Baby Groot so darn lovable is that now we all have to root for harm to come Teen Groot’s way in the next installment so that the little sapling can sprout anew, a miniature wooden phoenix sprouting from the angsty ashes.
Blosser: Baby Groot forever.
Varghese: Teen Groot. I’d pay to see Groot replace Jason Segel’s character in the sure-to-be-upcoming reboot of Freaks and Geeks.
McAtee: Full-Size Groot, please and thank you.
Yoo: Easy answer, Full-Size Groot. I don’t care how cute he is, it’s too much responsibility to watch over a Baby Groot. And don’t bring me anywhere near angsty Teen Groot. Full-Size Groot is the best Groot because he’s mature, and he will sacrifice his life for his friends, and I’d like to think I would be really good friends with Full-Size Groot.
Herman: Whichever Groot ensures Vin Diesel will continue to be paid literal millions of dollars for repeating the same three syllables ad nauseam.
Collins: Whichever one dances the most.
Bereznak: This is probably an unpopular opinion, but fuck Baby Groot. Full-Size Groot was a helpful member of the team who never took up too much screen time and literally sacrificed his trunk to save his friends. Here are some things we learn about Baby Groot:
1. He’s a general liability to the Guardians.
2. He can’t dance.
3. Under pressure he cracks and releases dangerous prisoners.
4. He may have accidentally sawed off someone’s toe.
Also, since when do trees take naps as if they were babies??? Anyway, I often felt like his adorable-ness was being exploited for cheap awws and I refuse to look up how much money Vin Diesel earned for this voice-acting role.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Chris Pratt’s character in some instances. He is Peter Quill, not Quinn.