MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2”-- 4 STARS
Four years ago while reviewing “Star Trek Into Darkness,” this website affirmed and extolled the unwritten rules of a good sequel. Proper second films should improve upon the original’s impact without carbon copy retread, raise the technical and creative bars, and, most importantly, extend the story and bolster its core. Quite simply, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” checks all of those boxes. All of the traits you loved from the first film have been amplified and polished to an even higher shine. Where most good sequels raise the stakes with peril, this one does it with a bonding sense of heart.
Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) and his merry band of anti-heroes-for-hire are split up across worlds for the majority of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Greedily, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole the invaluable battery power sources he and the group were supposed to defend for the Sovereign, a royal race of humanoids gilded in golden perfection and ruled by their high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki from “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”). The theft puts a bullseye on all their backs from the Sovereign as well as the entire Ravager syndicate, led by Stakar “Starhawk” Ogord (Sylvester Stallone, nice get) and the mutinous Taserface (Chris Sullivan of TV’s “This is Us”). Lusting revenge even greater than those two factions is Nebula (Karen Gillan), looking to put an end first her to her superior sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and eventually her lilac-hued tyrannical (and off-screen) father Thanos.
The film evolves to address the largest lingering mystery planted by the 2014 franchise starter. Since being abducted by aliens and raised into the hard life of Yondo (the scene-stealing Michael Rooker) and his gang of intergalactic thieving Ravagers, Peter has longed to learn the identity of his alien father while clinging to the memory of his late mother. The transcendental and immortal being Ego, embodied by the finely-aged gravitas of Kurt Russell, steps forward as that man. Who and what he is represents and portends is the real enigma that drives the film.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is an brazen explosion of Crayola-sheened special effects wonder mixed with invisible grays of magnetic character growth and depth. Just as with the first film, Marvel and company have taken a D-list roster of obscure also-rans and created new superstars and household names that you actually care about. Uninformed viewers may still need an old school MTV “Pop-Up Video” version of this film to keep the peripheral characters and easter eggs straight, but, true to the unwritten rules, the core is bolstered. On that note, let’s dip in early:
LESSON #1: THE DEEPENING CONNECTION BETWEEN ALLIES-- In the first film, we witnessed honorless find honor and the friendless acquire true colleagues. Each of the central characters takes a step forward, further coalescing this progressively heroic team, and they do so with unexpected punches of zest and moxie. I don’t know about you but I can watch and listen to Dave Bautista’s Drax full-belly-and-body laugh all day.
The first film graciously and successfully banked an enormous cache of financial and creative credibility that allows this sequel to really strive for sweetening every indulgence. The clever, stylish, and invested choices of writer/director James Gunn win almost every battle in the name of irreverent silliness. He remains the right man for this wacky job, and it is good to see his increased involvement in developing the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.
Weta Digital’s work throughout “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” pops offs of the screen to a level worthy of the 3D upcharge. I didn’t think it was possible, but the quippy comedy and pitch perfect musical quotients were raised even higher. Any film that finds a cool place for Silver’s “Wham Bam” gets a hearty cheers from me, especially when goes on to squeeze your moral fiber later with “Father & Son” from Cat Stevens. Diving way under the topline of credits, kudos go out to Marvel’s go-to music supervisor Dave Jordan. Meet your inescapable throwback soundtrack of the summer.
Lesser sequels have overinflated similar latitude and not every flourish of this summer blockbuster works. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” still barrels us over with the manic and busy-body fever of its predecessor. A few action sequences and long-form gags overplay their hand and sail over their intending landing zones. The final climactic barrage is more than little zany, but, unlike the first film, we are not saddled with Marvel’s usual flaw of a corny and one-dimensional antagonist. Nevertheless, in hackneyed fashion, somber-ish expositional speeches are given out to characters like prizes on a special episode of “Oprah.” Seemingly every character is allowed to wax about their background and it gets exhausting, even if it counts as character development. Luckily, no matter the flaws, the film never entirely becomes a parody of its own spectacle.
LESSON #2: EARTHLINGS HAVE EXASPERATING HANG-UPS-- Face it, humans are emotional and intellectual messes. Even fictional aliens can see it, but we’re beautiful for it. We will let small things destroy us at the same time as we ignore larger issues that need attention. Every one of the 7.5 billion of us has a comfort zone of perfection and matching package of weaknesses that doesn’t match any other soul.
LESSON #3: THE QUANDARY OF UNSPOKEN LOVES-- Spinning out of Lesson #2, let’s talk about one of those messes more specifically. With the Guardians of the Galaxy, save for Baby Groot, we’re dealing with a collection of hardasses and tough guys. They are not the best at voicing their feelings to siblings, parents, mentors, teammates, and romantic interests. If you can muster up the courage to face down celestial dangers, you can rise up for a hard conversation or two.