Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ***1/2
*ing: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell
Written and directed by James Gunn
Marvel’s many superheroes have been busy ruling the box office ever since Iron Man conquered cinemas in 2008, launching what has since become the most successful franchise in movie history. Perhaps the most entertaining entry in this immensely popular series so far has – quite unexpectedly – been Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), the James Gunn-directed outing that took a lesser known superhero ensemble and sent them on a ridiculously fun adventure. Now the team of extraterrestrial misfits is back for another romp in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the thoroughly enjoyable return of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most wacky collective.
Set a few months after the events of its predecessor, Vol. 2 finds our ragtag group of antiheroes – half-human, half-alien rogue Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), green skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), wisecracking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and adorable treelet Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) – continuing their cosmic escapades. The focus of this installment is on family, primarily Quill’s unorthodox genealogy and heritage, and Gamora’s unfinished business with her belligerent sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
The action unfolds as the Guardians find themselves being chased by a fleet of drones after Rocket angers the elitist Sovereign race by stealing some of their valuable batteries which the group was meant to be protecting from a formidable monster. They are eventually rescued by the mysterious Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Quill’s father, and takes his son, along with some of his offspring’s comrades, to his home planet, where we soon get the sense that things aren’t quite right. Meanwhile, the Sovereign’s leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), hires Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his crew to track down the Guardians so that she can exact her revenge.
Secrets are revealed, a mutiny is planned, and insults are mirthfully hurled left, right, and center as the film proceeds, its boundless joy distracting us from the fact that most its arcs feel quite routine. There is a degree of predictability that inevitability creeps up in such superhero fare – good defeats bad; cataclysms are eventually avoided; heartstrings are strung. Vol. 2 does tread familiar paths, but it does so with such gusto that it’s impossible not to get engrossed in the film’s brand of infectious fun. And, of course, there are plenty of little surprises on offer here; the most unlikely character, for instance, ends up providing the film’s emotional core, leading to a poignant farewell in space. There are also some inspired visual sequences throughout the movie, like Yondu decimating his enemies with his telekinetic arrow, and hyperspace jumps so intense that they temporarily redesign our heroes’ faces.
Tying it all together is Quill’s beloved Awesome Mix Vol. 2 mixtape, an eclectic collection of nostalgic tunes – some more well-chosen than others – that soundtrack the film. Its highlight is ELO’s buoyant ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ which accompanies the film’s most memorable moment, as lovely Baby Groot dances to the song in the opening credits, blissfully unconcerned by the fierce battle unfolding around him.
The cast exudes oodles of charm. Pratt continues to be charismatic as the lead; Saldana does a solid job, as always; Russell is well cast as Ego; Cooper’s voice acting is terrific; and Diesel’s Groot remains the most adorable character in the Guardians’ (increasingly overcrowded) galaxy. And everyone has plenty of zingers to work with, thanks to James Gunn’s witty script, which is also peppered with amusing pop culture references, but does feels a tad overlong in some places.
Perhaps they have tried to cram too much into this project, but Gunn and his crew have certainly created another fun space adventure set in a visually compelling universe that may not be as fresh as the film that preceded it, but is almost as entertaining. There’s action. There’s adventure. There’s wit. There’s emotion. There’s drama. And there’s dancing Baby Groot! What more could we possibly want from a summer blockbuster?
Rating system: *Not on your life ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection