By Elias Savada.
Yeah, a lot of folks have been waiting for this one. Three years ago, the creative and marketing folks behind Guardians of the Galaxy tossed the big budget dice and won big. The visionary sci-fi mashup wowed worldwide audiences and nine out of every ten critics, while also pulling in over three-quarters of a billion worldwide box office bucks. Not bad for an irreverent, kick-ass story about a rag-tag group of intergalactic oddballs. Then again, we are talking about the abundantly enjoyable and awesome Marvel Comics universe.
I enjoyed this latest mixtape (yes, seventies retro music once again plays an important part in many of the film’s delightful moments), enough that I’ll revisit it in a week or so. Yet, the snap, crackle, and pop in the sequel is a tad weaker in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Director James Gunn (back again, this time with sole writing credit) is trying too hard in some action scenes to get his story points across. The wisecracks aren’t as snappy (or maybe they’re just too sycophantic), and the effects, sets, and stunts are so supersized that you can lose track of the action, especially if you are watching the flick on an IMAX screen. Then again, the filmmakers also pay charming homage to pulp science fiction and video games popular a half-century ago. Even though the film’s galaxy is bigger with plenty of interstellar activity, Gunn can still capture a close-knit family affair (actually two), albeit one of those appears destined to destroy the cosmos. The feature also runs 15 minutes longer than the two-hour original – more doesn’t necessarily make for a lot of merrier.
On the plus side, Vol. 2 is part origins story. The movie opens in 1980s Missouri, with a 1979 Ford Cobra blazing fast and furious along the country roads. The roguish driver is played by young Kurt Russell, a celestial entity in sheep’s clothing aching for an heir. His passenger is Meredith Quinn (Laura Haddock), his beautifully oblivious human prey and single mother-to-be of Peter Quinn a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, spunky as ever). Russell, aged back 30-plus years via CG technical wizardry, plays a charmer with a purpose – one that takes a unexpected turn for his progeny and Peter’s expanding 21st-century friemily late in the film. When the father, appropriately named Ego, shows up decades later to introduce himself to his son (who envisioned him more akin someone approximating David Hasseloff), the meet up is both joyous and uncomfortable. It’s not unlike running into Dr. Morbius, the foreboding scientist stranded on a distant planet, played by Walter Pidgeon in the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet.
To re-introduce the Guardians, we find our heroes quickly back in action. Star-Lord; his green-skinned girlfriend (maybe) Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the hulky, literal-minded warrior Drax (Dave Bautista); and the raring-to-go, motor-mouth woodland creature Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are about to do battle with a tough-skinned interdimensional monster. Nearby is Groot – voiced again by Vin Diesel, but now with amusing high-pitched inflection – because he’s a twig of his former self, having grown from the splinters salvaged from his self-sacrifice in the first film. Baby Groot, as he is now called, is an innocent, unpredictable, and oh-so-baby-adorable spirit, incapable of fighting yet busy fussing with vintage hi-fi equipment and dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” as his friends do battle with the beast. It is a quintessential Guardians scene. Exhilarating, wildly, and frantically edited.
Our heroes are actually for hire in this sequence, employed by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), ruler of a planet of narcissist, gold-plated beings guarding some special super-duper batteries. Yeah, batteries. I wonder if the king of the colony is named Tesla. For their banter-filled fighting, Gamora’s adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) is traded to the Guardians for future sibling cat-fight considerations. That plays second fiddle to the father-son relationship between Peter and Ego. Meanwhile Ayesha and her people, upset that Rocket has stolen something precious to them, come after our titular group using powerful remote-controlled drones. This is where I get upset with the logic of the situation – distant, unmanned ships with an incredibly quick response time considering their pilots are galaxies away. Einstein is probably laughing at the crazy changes to the time-space continuum. I guess there are no time zones in space.
The Guardians also find themselves aligning with the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker), who finds himself on the outs with his own band of cut-throats, The Ravagers. He’s still armed with his very cool whistle-sensitive yaka arrows, and adds a new sensitive side to his demeanor. There’s also a naive new character named Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an inexperienced empath with two insect antennae that help her tune into other people’s feelings. She’s under Ego’s thumb, but not for long.
And that’s just for starters. Keep an eye out (twice) for Stan Lee as an astronaut. Do stay through the credits, as you might get an inkling where the loony crew is headed in Vol. 3. You can enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for what it’s worth – a worthy, overextended successor to its rollicking original. Fun, action, nonsense, classic rock, and over-the-top situations abound. Popcorn is optional.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He served as an executive producer on the 2015 horror film German Angst, Penny Lane’s award-winning documentary Nuts!, and the forthcoming supernatural thriller Ayla. He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2017 by Centipede Press).