Yeah, we had to look it up, too. It's actually really hard to remember what exactly happens in the first "Guardians," and not just because it was released nearly three years ago, or because it is a superhero movie, which have become more like blockbuster episodes in an endless marathon. The first "Guardians" didn't have a particularly good plot, and the action driving the three act structure was besides the point.
Thanos, the jewel-hungry Marvel big bad, was the villain, a blue alien played by Karen Gillan also caused trouble, and Peter Serafinowicz was really funny as a reluctant ally, but their goals and actions were sort of irrelevant. Director James Gunn's first "Guardians" was a smash hit because its ragtag team of accidental heroes were so damn likable, with compelling backstories and unique personalities.
It was a breakout role for Chris Pratt, who oozed charm as Star-Lord, and was a huge moment for Dave Bautista, the wrestler-turned-actor that played lovable idiot strongman Drax. Zoe Saldana brought gravitas, and we couldn't get enough out of a foul mouthed raccoon (Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a freaking tree that only said its name.
It was a character comedy dressed up as a superhero movie, and we mostly remember the jokes and feeling of camaraderie between its oddball cast. That's a great formula for a surprise hit, but more difficult to recreate -- especially when a sequel has still got to cater to the comic book movie audience and the greater Marvel multiverse. And so it comes as no surprise, if still a disappointment, that "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" fails to recapture the magic of the first movie.
This the problem with comedy sequels, especially follow-ups to movies that come out of nowhere to capture our heart. Audiences were surprised by a lovable sentient tree that only said "I am Groot..." and then wanted more of it. Drax delighted with his self-seriousness and taking everything literally, and then the pressure was on to repeat it. The '70s music and '80s pop culture references, so often explained to alien characters in amusing and misleading ways by Star-Lord, had to be repeated and even one-upped.
The list goes on and on; "Guardians 2" is more or less an assemblage of tropes and tricks played by the original, remixed and rewarmed for an expectant audience. Gunn went bigger this time, playing into the meta pop culture theme by getting a cameo by David Hasselhoff, a very exhausted meme at this point. He also recruited real-life '80s hero Kurt Russell to play Star-Lord¹s dad; this one works because Russell is still ultra cool, but also winds up being a waste of Russell¹s talent and charisma.
Actually, Russell¹s character sort of embodies how and why this movie fails. His story is sort of hard to follow -- he's a planet that can simulate humanity? -- and his motivations are unclear. And as he grows bigger and more bloated, the third act winds up happening inside of him, which is weird and convoluted and winds up being a CGI nightmare.
The whole thing feels a bit contrived and forced; there's a whole race of gold people riding VR space motorcycles chasing after Rocket the entire time, ostensibly because he stole batteries from them, but mostly because Gunn needed some action sequences and a busier third act, with multiple chases coming together.
Groot sacrificed himself in the first movie, and it was very emotional; he came back as a baby tree at the very end, and now that form, after three years of merchandising, is mostly played for laughs. We forget why we really, improbably cared about Groot in the first place, because we are too busy consuming its new dancing and squeaking, the result of us getting exactly what we think we want, but in a more exhausted and empty form.