Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not as fresh and unexpected as Vol. 1 – how could it be?
Instead, Vol. 2 follows the Star Wars plan of taking the characters who came together in Vol. 1 and separating them into unexpected combinations to dig into who they are – while engaging in explosive hijinx and, yes, saving the galaxy (and probably the universe), again.
It’s a fun ride that almost equals the original for brashness, humor and wit – but with a bit more real drama.
GotG Vol. 2 opens with a flashback to Missouri in 1980 where/when we see Meredith Quill riding in a convertible with Peter/Star-Lord’s dad (Kurt Russell de-aged by CGI – really good CGI). This is a couple in love.
Thirty-four years later, the Guardians are retrieving stolen batteries (super batteries) and ticking of their clients, The Sovereign, in the process – even more so when Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals some. High priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, The Great Gatsby) orders her fleet (remotely operated like a video game – complete with Pac-Man sound effects) to retrieve the batteries and kill the Guardians.
As the Guardians race to a jump point to avoid certain death they are miraculously rescued by a being who later claims to be Peter’s dad – Ego (Kurt Russell), who takes Peter, Gamora and Drax to his home.
Meanwhile, Rocket is attempting to repair damage to their ship while escaping The Sovereign – with only Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan, GotG Vol 1, The Circle), who is with them because she’s the reward the Guardians requested for retrieving the stolen batteries the first time.
In a separate arc, Yondu’s (Michael Rooker, GotG Vol. 1, The Walking Dead) Ravager tribe turns against him – a situation that leads to his being imprisoned along with Rocket and Baby Groot (the plot mechanism that brings this to pass is inventive).
Vol. 2 has a lot of the space opera fun of Vol. 1, but when we learn more about the characters, some have more resonance for us and some become something different. Yondu, in particular, has an arc that definitely has a positive effect the audience’s perception of him.
Teaming Yondu with Rocket and Baby Groot lets us learn more about both fuzzball master of weapons and the former Ravager in a way that mixing a bit of pathos and a little humor to good effect.
Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (David Bautista) make for an unusual character mix, too – and when they meet Ego’s only companion, an empath called Mantis (Pom Klementieff, Spike Lee’s Oldboy) things get even more unusual – which provides Drax a few laughs.
Even though Peter comes to believe Ego is his father, there are still issues. After all, Ego left his mom and Peter never even knew who his was. Even the possibilities that Ego draws for Peter get filtered through the broken of the kid who had to watch his mother die.
The revelation that Ego is a Celestial (we one’s skull in Vol. 1 – it was being used as a space station-cum-interstellar marketplace) just adds another layer to the father/son relationship.
Despite Peter and Gamora being the ostensible heart of the Guardians movies, Vol. 2 is a showcase for Drax, Rocket and Yondu. With the weight of the revelations about them, each could be, arguably, the main character in the movie.
The script, by writer/director James Gunn, may spend a lot of time on character development but it doesn’t ignore the kind of space battles and psychedelic action sequences that we saw in Vol. 1.
The Sovereign with its massive remote-controlled armada, gives good antagonist – their incredibly snotty superior attitude makes it easy to dislike them, too. But their efforts to reclaim their stolen super batteries lack bite – though the Pac-Man sound effects and arcade-like pilot stations make up for that by being genuinely witty.
Ego’s home – he is actually the planet (Ego The Living Planet has place in every fan of Marvel comics from the ‘70s) – is filled with interesting stuff, like the bubbles that float around Peter and his friends when they arrive. Ego’s palace is beyond grand, but still looks like an organic extension of the planet (which it is).
The world of the Ravagers is given a bit more time than in Vol. 1 but its most intriguing feature is that the Ravagers’ chief of chiefs is Stakar Orgood, is played by Sylvester Stallone. It’s a small role here but I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see more of him in Vol. 3.
While Vol. 2 has no shortage of sight gags, humorous situations and witty lines, it does have some pacing problems. In the most character driven sequences, the pace slows too much – while never for long enough to disrupt the audience’s enjoyment, it’s still long enough to be noticeable.
Otherwise, Gunn’s second Guardians film is a hugely entertaining two hours and sixteen minutes (just don’t leave until after the end of the closing credits – there are five (count ’em five) extra scenes (including one that refers back to Stan Lee’s cameo – which only the comics fans will get).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is stellar (or maybe interstellar) fun.
Final Grade: A-