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Classic Rock Makes ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Great


Today’s superhero films are usually about giant explosions, impressive acrobatics, and saving the world.

But in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” those features were always secondary. We knew this from the film’s opening minutes, when Star Lord (Chris Pratt) danced across a planet to Blue Swede’s “Hooked On a Feeling.” Director James Gunn built his film around good classic rock, and a witty humor that never dulled.

That formula made his first film shine. By hitting those same notes with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Gunn’s film largely manages to succeed.

What Made The First ‘Guardians’ Film Great

According to Rolling Stone, when Gunn was making his first film, people told him “Nobody is going to want to hear this music.” They recommended that he use ’90s Brittany pop music instead (just writing that makes me want to cry).

But the first film’s soundtrack (“Awesome Mix Vol. 1”) has sold 1.8 million copies since the film was released. That doesn’t count all the folks—me included—who were listening to those classic rock songs on Spotify or other streaming sites prior to and after the film’s release.

Rather than seeing Peter Quill (a.k.a. “Star Lord”) open the film solo, as he did last time, this film features a giant fight scene with all the Guardians and an adorable Groot, who does the dancing this time. The opening music ensemble is the Electric Light Orchestra’s 1977 “Mr. Blue Sky,” and it’s perfect. It’s got the poppy, eclectic sound that fits this film so well.

The first “Guardians” film featured Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,”among others. Quill’s music formed the backbone of the film: building action scenes, dispelling tension, and wafting through romantic scenes.

How Classic Rock Ties Everything Together

The idea is that Quill loves this music because it’s one of the few things he preserved from earth, prior to his kidnapping. His mother gave him two mixtapes, and he plays both on an ancient Walkman. Considering our obsession with vintage analog items of late—like vinyl records and Polaroid cameras—the classic music and dated recording equipment complements our national mood.

But the songs serve as more than that: in a larger sense, they emanate the presence of Quill’s mother, who died from cancer when he was a child. They serve as another character in the film, even becoming a distracting foil at one point, so Rocket can take on a group of attacking raiders singlehandedly. The funk, the vocals, the electric guitar—it all builds, animates, and complements the film’s actual storytelling.

We hear Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” after Quill reunites with his long-lost dad. But it also, in a rather moving way, shows the fatherly relationship growing between Quill and Baby Groot.

Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” begs the Guardians to “keep us together” after a squabble between Quill and Rocket. George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” complements the realization that Quill’s dad is actually a god (“small g,” as he tells his son).

What’s New In ‘Guardians 2’

This film’s soundtrack also offers some interesting and different offerings: there’s an original song by Gunn, with vocals by actor and German pop singer David Hasselhoff. This is important, because we learn that Quill pretended David Hasselhoff was his father when he was a boy. (Hasselhoff also has a cameo in the film.)

There are also lesser-known, one-hit works like Silver’s “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lan” or Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah’s “Lake Shore Drive.” And then there’s Looking Glass’s “Brandy,” a song that opens the film, as we see Quill’s parents spending time together. Quill’s mother, Meredith, loves the song.

“She’s a music lover, but she’s completely not elitist,” Gunn tells Rolling Stone. “If it’s something that’s thought of as goofy and pop, she likes it. If it’s cool or funk, she likes it. She just likes hooks and melodies. She’s a very quirky, young girl who fell in love with, you know, as it ends up, an alien. And falling in love with an alien is right up there in Meredith Quill’s alley. She’s an oddball, like her son.”

“Brandy” is an important song, in part, because Quill’s dad believes it describes his relationship with Meredith: he loved her, but felt a “calling” that kept pulling him away from her. Like the song’s sailor. He believes Quill has a similarly isolated calling, and tries to convince him that he’s apart from his Guardian buddies. Much of the film builds around the strain Quill feels between his father and the new family he’s fostered.

Where The Film Falls Flat

There’s also “Come A Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans, which features the most gruesome of the film’s violence. Gunn previewed the scene at Comic Con, describing it as a scene in which Rocket and Yandu “enjoy a little bit of ultra-violence while it’s playing and it’s really fun.” This was one of the few moments in the film where I felt the movie was catering to 14-year-old boys, to the detriment of older viewers’ taste. The music’s great, though.

That’s something easy to say throughout “Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” The thematic elements and storytelling aren’t pitch-perfect. There’s some heavy-handed moralizing, and the film’s villain seems a bit unimpressive. I wish we hadn’t figured out who Quill’s dad was so early in (what I imagine will be) a long and drawn-out saga. The mystery of Quill’s origin lent an interesting aura to the series.

But Quill and his compatriots are still laugh-out-loud funny. They dish out a combination of sarcasm, potty humor, and slapstick that ensures pretty much any viewer will have something to giggle at. Does that mean you occasionally feel they’re working a bit too hard? Maybe. But there are enough funny moments in there to make it work.

So long as Gunn keeps dishing out fantastic music and witty dialogue, people will keep coming to see these films. They offer something no other Marvel series does, and they’ve discovered a formula that truly works.