Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone
Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of Hollywood in years. James Gunn’s space opera brought some much needed freshness and joy to not only the comic book movie genre, but the blockbuster form more generally. It also benefited from the fact that no one saw it coming. Expectations were not high. This same is not a luxury that is enjoyed by the sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has a lot to live up to.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamorah (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are on the run from a race of ethereal, golden beings known as the Sovereign after Rocket stole some of the precious batteries that they had paid the Guardians to protect. Despite having been together for some time now, the team doesn’t seem to get along any better and there are clear tensions and rivalries on display. While sheltering to do repairs on their ship they are approached by an impressively regal man named Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to not only be a god, but also to be Peter’s long lost father. While Rocket and Groot stay back to do repairs on the ship, Peter, Gamorah and Drax accompany Ego to his home planet to learn more. But while Peter is blinded by his new dad, the others feel something isn’t quite right.
The tendency in blockbuster sequels is to go bigger, to try and outdo the original, but returning writer-director James Gunn doesn’t give into that impulse. Guardians 2 isn’t the large scale, planet-hopping adventure the first film was. Nor is it burdened with a wider Marvel Cinematic Universe serving narrative about infinity stones. Rather, we get an intentionally smaller film, more driven by character than plot. Guardians 2 is a film about family. After a lifetime of searching, Peter has found his real father, but what does that mean for the surrogate family he is now part of? Gamorah and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) continue with their particularly violent sibling rivalry. Rocket, always a loner, is confronted by his desire to push away from these people he cares about. Then you have Baby Groot, the infant (sapling?) that this group all combine to take care of.
The plot here really is a bit thin, but the fun of the film comes from being back with this group of characters again. The best moments are character moments, not story moments, and Gunn is aware of that. The film opens with the Guardians battling an enormous slug-like creature that has come to Sovereign to steal these batteries, but Gunn cleverly keeps all that big action sequence in the background as we focus on Baby Groot innocently and obliviously toddling through the scene. It is a wonderfully fun scene that instantly subverts the expectations of the space adventure form.
Dave Bautista, the real surprise packet of the first film, is rewarded with good scenes here and delivers them well, both hitting the comic notes and sharing some touching, while still hilarious, moments with new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who shares his lack of understanding of social convention. Baby Groot is adorable and, for a character where potential for cheesiness was high, is used really effectively. Kurt Russell displays all the swagger and bravado you would expect not only from an immortal called Ego, but from the father of Star Lord. The other notable addition to the cast is Sylvester Stallone who has a couple of scenes as a Ravager leader who has fallen out with Yondu (Michael Rooker). Given how little Sly is given to do here one would assume that his character is being set up for bigger things in a later instalment.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy had such a distinctive stylistic approach that it is hard to continue on without it feeling a bit imitative, and there are moments where this sequel overplays its hand slightly. Generally, though, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does well all the things the first film did well – from its irreverent tone to its likeable characters and catchy soundtrack. It just doesn’t do any of them better.
Review by Duncan McLean
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