Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

Upping the action, as well as the CG components, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 should go down easily for fans of the first film, even if it’s not quite on the same footing in terms of story pacing and balancing the tone of the mean-spiritedness in its comic violence with the levity of the sillier shenanigans. The effort here isn’t to try to take things into any sort of new direction so much as to try to outdo the first film in nearly every facet viewers enjoyed, and it succeeds, for the most part, despite the levels of sadism in the violence and caustic dialogue that sour the film from being unabashed enjoyment on a few occasions.

Once again written and directed by James Gunn (Super, Slither), this second volume finds Peter Quill (Pratt, The Magnificent Seven), aka Star-Lord, and the gang getting their bacons saved by someone who is more than a man, named Ego (Russell, The Fate of the Furious), who claims to be Peter’s father. Despite skepticism due to Ego’s seeming abandonment, Peter is invited to join Ego on the latter’s own Eden-like planet, called, of course, Ego’s Planet, where he must periodically return to in order to keep it alive, residing there with only his assistant, an empath named Mantis (Klementieff, Old Boy). Meanwhile, there’s an powerful golden-skinned race called The Sovereign out to retrieve some stolen and highly valuable batteries from Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper, War Dogs), a fleet of Ravagers is on the hunt, and signals the comeback of Yondu (Rooker, Jumper).

Some of this seems to be setting up for the inevitable third Guardians of the Galaxy movie more so than something that resolves in this one, which leads to a bit more of a sloppy plot in this effort than in the relatively simple and breezy first entry. That said, it is also still quite stand-alone in its approach to storytelling, not spending much time in any characters that are pre-established in any of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties.

Themes of family abound, coming back to the notion that just because someone is related by blood doesn’t mean they have your well-being at heart. On the converse, sometimes it is those people who aren’t related to you at all that have your back the best. In addition to the father/son dynamic between Quill and Ego, we get more of the conflict-filled relationship between sisters Gamora (Saldana, Live by Night) and Nebula (Gillan, The Big Short), Rocket confronts his own troubled upbringing, and a resolution of the abductor/stepfather Yondu’s relationship with Peter.  Perhaps there are two or three story threads too many for the film to maintain focus, but Gunn keeps the interest through his ability to draw out funny and human moments amid the less developed bits.

Lots of sight gags, fun cameos, scatological humor (your mileage may vary on the turd jokes), pop culture references from the 1980s, and a whole new 1970s radio-friendly pop/rock soundtrack to set the tone of the storyline, some directly, such as Looking Glass’s 1972 hit, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)”. The rest of the soundtrack strikes just as resonant a chord with the vibe of what’s going on from scene to scene, deepening a film that could have just as easily have ridden merely on eye-candy spectacle alone.  That, and the humor: Drax (Bautista, Riddick), in particular, drums up the laughs with each unfiltered statement he makes, which livens up some of the darker, more serious moments that bubble up as the film draws closer to conclusion.

The eye candy is here, perhaps a bit too much at times, as the characters get drowned out by the overly busy effects work and extended action sequences which go on beyond their need for pushing forward the story elements. The final cataclysmic battle in particular will test the patience of even avid fans to adhere strict attention to it beyond the vividness of the colors and overall prolonged destruction. Nevertheless, there is more here than just excess, even a few touching, poignant moments thrown into the cacophony. Some of this hits the spot, while others seem to miss the mark in terms of characterization interest. Characters still seem like they have only two speeds: obnoxiously yelling or completely silent to one another; it’s not a film that expresses itself through subtle nuance often, and it barely stays on the PG-13 side of things. Gags are repetitive, but, luckily for us, it’s still enjoyable even when the volume is cranked to the max most of the time.

Higher expectations may factor in as to whether you feel this follow-up continues to be upper tier Marvel or fall just short.  Though I won’t score it quite as high, I’m happy to report that the chemistry is still there, even with the addition of new characters to the mix, adding to the overall fun vibe that’s still infectious enough to have you tapping your feet to the tune of GotG Vol. 2. While it isn’t as fresh in its ideas as the dynamic breakthrough, the intergalactic party continues, making for yet another fun, irreverent ride for Marvel fans.

— Stay through the entire end credits for multiple extra scenes.

Qwipster’s rating: B+

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content
Running Time: 136 min.

Cast: Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper (voice), Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Vin Diesel (voice), Sylvester Stallone
Small role: Rob Zombie, Seth Green (voice), Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, Miley Cyrus (voice), Jeff Goldblum, David Hasselhoff, Stan Lee
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn