Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is the perfect sequel. Whether or not it’s as fresh, funny or exciting as the original film, it’s exactly what a Guardians sequel needed to be. All too often in the film business, a great freshman effort is followed up by a half-baked sophomore letdown. Fortunately, moviegoers and Guardians fans have nothing to worry about.
Writer and director James Gunn has crafted something special in this sequel, masterfully weaving the two films together and enriching the stories of both. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Michael Rooker all ring in terrific performances and Kurt Russell is a terrific newcomer.
5 Elements Of A Good Sequel
Before we begin, it’s important to ask ourselves one simple question: What makes a good sequel? There’s no simple answer to that simple question, of course. In fact, there are many elements that make up a good sequel, such as:
- – A good sequel gives you something new wrapped in something familiar.
- – A good sequel propels the original characters forward.
- – A good sequel expands on the original’s world-building and narrative.
- – A good sequel doesn’t make up new rules that break the old ones.
- – A good sequel sets up a new conflict with a new kind of villain.
Let’s look at each of these individually, and then see how they apply to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
A Good Sequel Is New, But It Doesn’t Ditch The Familiar
Nobody wants a sequel that completely reinvents the wheel, but everybody wants a sequel that feels familiar. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 retains the look and tone of the original, replete with semi-crude humor, heartfelt moments, and bombastic action pieces. At the same time, it gives us an entirely new story without rehashing too much of the first film’s narrative formula.
The major shortcoming of George Lucas‘s prequel trilogy was that it tried to do so much that was new and different from the original trilogy, largely because Lucas wanted to show off his CGI chops, and because he didn’t rely on the original films’ screenwriters. What we were left with was a trilogy of films that felt utterly different from the originals. It wasn’t just a problem with pacing, it was as if the entire Star Wars universe had been fundamentally changed.
A Good Sequel Deepens The Characters, Propels Them Forward
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 we discover so much about our rag-tag band of heroes. We learn more about Star-Lord‘s parents and his backstory. We discover that the assumptions we made (and that Peter made) about one of the first film’s chief antagonists were tragically misguided. Relationships between the Guardians are deepened and expanded in the sequel, giving the narrative more dimension. In this way, the sequel actually changes and impacts the original. The way we watch the first film will never be the same.
In The Empire Strikes Back, not only did we get a really cool movie with pitched battles on the planet Hoth, a new and beautiful Cloud City, and an introduction to Yoda, we also learned so much more about the characters from A New Hope.
We learned the true identity of Darth Vader. We saw glimpses of the man Luke Skywalker would become rather than the whiny adolescent he was in the first film. We saw the edges of romance blossom between Princess Leia and Han Solo. And we learned just how much we cared for the roguish smuggler when he was betrayed by Lando and handed over to the bounty hunter, Boba Fett.
A Good Sequel Organically Enriches The World-Building Of The Original
A bad sequel simply gives us the same ground we’ve already walked across. A good sequel expands that ground. A bad sequel gives us gimmicks so that it can tell the same story with new props. A good sequel expands the story’s horizons.
In Guardians, we have the same crew in a new scenario, and the universe they inhabit becomes infinitely more complex, dangerous and breathtaking. Only now we have demi-god Celestials and their extraordinary powers, grudge-holding, golden-skinned Sovereign out for revenge, and so much more. Even just the way the spaceships and magic technology were expanded helped color in the film’s outrageous universe.
A Good Sequel Doesn’t Change The rules Of The Original Without Good Reason
There are times when a sequel needs to deepen or expand the lore of the original, and that may necessitate undermining the original to some degree. Indeed, some authors have even gone back and released revised editions of early books in a series in order for them to conform better to what followed.
But as a rule of thumb, sequels should help deepen our knowledge of the systems introduced in earlier entries, not change or demystify those systems. We turn to the Star Wars prequel films. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan describes the Force as “an energy field created by all living beings.” Indeed, “the Force” is actually just shorthand. In the original script for the film, and in a brief moment in Rogue One, it’s actually referred to as “the Force of others.”
Guardians doesn’t bother changing any rules, though it certainly adds a little magic to the universe in the form of Ego, played by Kurt Russell. But our heroes aren’t suddenly more powerful or more noble. We have no bizarre explanations that don’t make sense, used to prop up a shaky script. The story flows naturally from the events that preceded it.
A Good Sequel Sets Up A New Kind Of Conflict And A New Type Of Villain
There’s nothing more frustrating than a retread of old ideas. The CW‘s current crop of DC Comics shows has had its hits and its misses. Perhaps its biggest hit was the first season of The Flash, which introduced a fascinating conflict and one of the most sympathetic super-villains I’ve ever seen in a TV show. Then Season 2 tried to do almost the exact same thing, and Season 3, which is currently airing, has recycled the formula yet again (with only a slight twist.) It’s getting old and it’s becoming incredibly predictable, which is a shame.
Now take The Dark Knight, the sequel to Christopher Nolan‘s Batman Begins. That film’s plot may be a huge mess, but at least the villain, Heath Ledger’s incredible Joker, was riveting, and the conflict was new and different.
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, our heroes once again have to save the universe, but this time it’s from a much different threat and one that introduces some surprising twists, both to the story and to Peter Quill‘s backstory.