GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2
PG-13, 136 mins.
2017, PG-13, 136 mins.
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord / Zoe Saldana as Gamora / Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer / Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon (voice) / Vin Diesel as Baby Groot (voice) / Karen Gillan as Nebula / Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta / Pom Klementieff as Mantis / Kurt Russell as Ego / Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord / Starhawk / Sean Gunn as Kraglin Obfonteri / On Set Rocket / Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha / Tommy Flanagan as Tullk / Michael Rosenbaum as Martinex T'Naga / Evan Jones as Wretch
Written and directed by James Gunn
OF THE GALAXY had no business being as financially successful -
and good, for that matter - as it was, seeing as it was a real
creative Hail Mary by Marvel and Disney to take a C-grade and virtually
unknown comic book property and somehow make it mainstream.
The highly risky gamble paid off handsomely, as the film not only
become one of the most cherished in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,
but this humble critic coveted it so much that he put it on his list of
the Ten Best Films of its year.
A sequel to
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY proved beyond inevitable (three quarters of a
billion dollars in worldwide box office grosses all but ensured that), and
after three years writer/director James Gunn (once again returning to the
helm) has the daunting task of recapturing the first film's unique lightning-in-a-bottle aesthetic while simultaneously forging ahead with a story that
takes its characters and themes to the next level.
One of the problems going into GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 is
that the property is no longer an obscure underdog one that lay audiences
are not familiar with. That,
and re-branding the first film's infectiously eccentric quirkiness is an
unenviable task, to be sure. On
a positive, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 is just as visually dazzling,
action packed, and joyously sly as its predecessor, but for as much
irreverent silliness that Gunn successfully brings to the proceedings this
sequel is also regrettably bloated, messy, meandering, and undisciplined.
The film does
contain one of the finest opening credit montages in recent history, which
depicts a massive intergalactic brawl between the title characters and a
giant octopus-like creature. Now,
it's not the mayhem that's great, nor is that precisely what Gunn focuses
on here. No, the remarkably
scaled CGI battle is shown in the background as the camera lovingly
follows Baby Groot (still inexplicably voiced by Vin Diesel) dancing
around the combatants to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" while his allies
do all of the heavy lifting. Very
few characters have ever been as toyetic as Baby Groot, but the manner
that Gunn celebrates his wide-eyed enthusiasm here certainly makes him
appears that the Guardians - still comprised of Peter
"Star-Lord" Quill (once again played with effortlessly goofy and
rogue-like charm by Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave
Bautista) and Rocket "Don't Call Him Raccoon" (voiced by Bradley
Cooper) - were actually contracted out to battle that aforementioned
monster made of tentacles and teeth by gold skinned "Sovereign"
people, led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to re-obtain some special
battery thingies for them, which Rocket rather selfishly kept.
Angered by this, Sovereign launches an attack on the Guardians,
with Peter employing some Han Solo-esque piloting derring do to escape
from. The team finds itself separated in the aftermath, with Groot and Rocket finding
unlikely company in Yondu (an impeccably well cast Michael Rooker), that's
desperately trying to reclaim his past reputation as a stalwart
to this is Gamora confronting her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) over their
respective daddy issues with Thanos (the frustratingly little seen big
baddie of the entire MCU). Lastly,
Peter comes face to face with his biological father, Ego (Kurt Russell),
who explains to Peter why he abandoned him all those years ago with his cancer stricken
mother back on Earth.
Their relationship, rather predictably, is fraught with
GUARDIANS OF THE
GALAXY: VOL. 2 is a tour de force visual dynamo through and through,
thanks to Gunn's fine eye for imbuing these films with a vibrancy and
color that most dark, bleak, and nihilistic sci-fi films these days
altogether lack. The film's
conceptual imagination (something that was lacking and kept me at an
annoying arm's distance in, say, THE
FORCE AWAKENS) is staggeringly beautiful at times, especially when
it comes to envisioning Ego's lush tropical planet as one of heavenly
virtues. Gunn also
demonstrates how much giddy fun he's having in crafting action sequences
as well. Beyond the bravura
opening title card sequence, another spectacularly rendered scene shows
Yando's unique skills with whistling and an arrow to decimate his way
through a squadron of enemy attackers.
This is all great stuff.
beats are also reliably strong in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2, and
Gunn doesn't fall victim to sequel-itus by failing to dig deeper into this
franchise's core mythology. Refreshingly, Gunn takes his time with the inviting personas
that populate the film, sometimes to gut-wrenchingly hysterical effect
(like, for example, Drax's continued inability to censor anything he says
to anyone and Rocket's ever escalating ego as a pilot and pint-sized
hero), and sometimes surprisingly poignant effect (as is the case with
Yondu being condemned by his own kind, thus leading him on a redemption
story arc that's arguably the film's most compelling).
Less intriguing is Gamora's fractured ties to her sister, which
leads to a lot of petty squabbling and mindless fighting between
the pair, thematic terrain that's already been covered in VOL. 2.
The main focal
point of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 is, yes, the relationship
between Peter and Ego, which to elaborate on further would be bordering on
rampant spoilers (shockingly, far too many other reviews have really
spilled far too many beans about it). All I will say is that Russell's Ego is, well, not quite
entirely human, which leaves bonding with his son a bit more initially
problematic (we also have a somewhat needless flashback sequence early on
in the film featuring a 34-years-younger Ego at the height of his loving
bond with his wife on Earth that's more laugh inducing than dramatic,
seeing as the sight of a digitally de-aged Russell is kind of creepy).
Oddly, the tenuous father/son arc between Ego and Peter is the
least enthralling angle of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2, seeing as Ego
is not so much a fully fleshed out and fascinating character as he is an
exposition dispensing machine that does an awful lot of talking
about who he is, where he has been, what he's doing now, and how Peter
fits into his overall plans moving forward.
The manner with
which Gunn introduces the father/son dynamic in the film and then hastily
does away with it as the film careens towards an indulgently showy and
exhaustively protracted climax left me wanting, especially considering
that it could have been more fully realized and explored over the course
of multiple sequels. This of
course leads to the film's other issue: the central villain is too broadly
defined here, whose infinite powers are conveniently god-like in some
scenes, but then rather unconvincingly stripped down later on to
reveal key weaknesses that the heroes can exploit (this all builds to a
chaotically loud third act that's heavy on eye popping spectacle and noise
and mournfully low on heart). The
film's CG sheen, as gloriously engineered as it is at times, sometimes
becomes obtrusively overwhelming to endure; the film's artifice frequently
drowns out the characters instead of complimenting them.
Volume of effects and a larger scale is not necessary
a better choice here, which makes GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 feel
fatiguing by the time the end credits roll by (and speaking of fatiguing,
there's half a dozen end credit scenes, only one of which is worthy of
Maybe the real problem with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 is that it forgets what made the first film so positively energized: the central offbeat team chemistry between all members that were trying to forge an odd family unit. Separating these key characters in this sequel robs us of meaningfully reconnecting with this team, especially when some of their subplots are more engaging than others. That, and there's just too much thrown in here for good measure, so much so that deciphering what GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2 is about proves to be tricky. Gunn, if anything, deserves serious props for pure audience placating showmanship, but his unwavering passion for the material sometimes gets lost here amidst the film's murky scripting and meandering pacing. Maybe no sequel - or MCU film, for that matter - could re-capture GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 1's brazen and cleverly subversive genre busting novelty.
This sequel tries (oh, does it ever), but only with modest Baby Groot sized returns.