Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 *** ½ / *****
Directed by: James Gunn.
Written by: James Gunn based on the Marvel comics by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning and characters created by Steve Englehart and Steve Gan and Jim Starlin and Stan Lee & Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby and Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen.
Starring: Chris Pratt (Peter Quill / Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Vin Diesel (Baby Groot), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Sylvester Stallone (Stakar Ogord), Kurt Russell (Ego), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Chris Sullivan (Taserface), Sean Gunn (Kraglin / On-Set Rocket).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 delivers precisely what you expect it will deliver, and nothing else. This isn’t wholly a bad thing – you cannot complain that the film doesn’t deliver what its predecessor did – because it does. What it lacks this time is anything the least bit surprising. The film leans so heavily on what worked last time, that there really isn’t time for anything all that different. The good news is that because the first film was so wildly entertaining, that the second film is also an entertaining thrill ride. But the first film was a genuine surprise – a film that came out of the Marvel machine, with a least an inkling of something new and different. This one doesn’t have that.
The film once again follows the title group of space misfits – led Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), their goofy, 1980s music loving orphan and misfit, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a kick-ass, no nonsense green alien, who is also his love interest, Drax (Dave Bautista), a giant, muscle bound green and red alien out of revenge and comic relief, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically modified raccoon who is also a giant asshole, and Groot – the lovable tree who was all but destroyed last movie, and is no replaced by Baby Groot – the same thing but smaller and WAY cuter. This adventure finds them outrunning a planet of aliens they’ve pissed off and the Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker) Quill used to belong to, who have been hired by those same aliens. Meanwhile, Quill meets his long lost father Ego (Kurt Russell) who tells him the secrets of his past, and Gamora is still battling her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). The other major new character is Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who works for Ego.
The film knows why it exists – and that is to please the millions of fans who made the first film one of Marvel’s more surprising hits – considering that this was a little known comic property when compared to the rest of their movies. Perhaps because it was lesser known, and had an August release date, Marvel let writer/director James Gunn off the hook a little bit, and allowed him to indulge himself a little more than most directors who work for them get to do. No such lucky this time around, as it basically seems like the instructions here were “Do it exactly the same as last time”. Luckily, that does involve a lot of Gunn himself, whose warped sense of humor comes out in the film. He also seems more comfortable with the special effects this time around, and the action sequences are smoother and better executed.
Having said all that, the best sequence in the entire film is the first one – a massive space battle that instead of following the action, follows Baby Groot who is at ground level as the action plays out behind him. There is more visual imagination and ingenuity in that sequence than the rest of the film combined.
Still, I feel like I’m being overly hard on a film that I generally had a good time with. This is a film that holds your attention from beginning to end, is funny and clever, well-acted and entertaining. For pure escapist fun, the film does its job. It just doesn’t do anything more than that – which I was kind of hoping it would. But hey, we’re about to enter a three month period of non-stop blockbuster – and if they’re all as fun as this, we won’t be complaining.