Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)
I loved the original Guardians of the Galaxy. When it came out, in 2014, the creative forces at Marvel had yet to release films like Ant-Man (2015) and Deadpool (2016), and so Guardians had the field to itself as a breath of fresh air through the soon-to-be- overripe superhero genre (already quite ripe at the time). Starring an appealing cast of characters – three live and two computer-generated – the film offered peppy one-liners and clever action sequences, all set to a delightful 1970s soundtrack that was not just for fun, but also justified by the plot. With Chris Pratt (Jurassic World), Zoe Saldana (Infinitely Polar Bear) and Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists), as well as the voices of Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) and Vin Diesel (Riddick) – well, sort of Vin Diesel, who uttered but one line over and over again – all clearly having a marvelous time, it was hard not to join them in joyful mayhem as they saved the universe, earning themselves their titular collective sobriquet, and pushing the movie towards the top of the box-office chart that year.
And now they’re back, because once is never enough. If you recall, the plant-creature that is Groot (Diesel) sacrificed himself the last time, and so he returns now as adorable Baby Groot, having been replanted from a leftover branch (or some such genetic material). Otherwise, the other four are the same, though now the love that almost flourished between Gamora (Saldana) and Peter (Pratt) – a.k.a. Star-Lord – simmers closer to the surface, much to the amusement of Drax (Bautista), that burly, pensive madman who first showed up with “the Destroyer” tacked on to his name. When we meet them at the start, they are guarding (of course!) some powerful batteries for a race of people known as the Sovereigns (I think, not that it matters), who look as if they have all been covered in the gold paint used in the James Bond film Goldfinger. After defeating the horrifying (yet somehow simultaneously cute) creature that attacks, and earning the Sovereigns’ gratitude plus the prize of Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) – on whose head there is a bounty, elsewhere – they are just preparing to take off when their fifth member, Rocket the Raccoon (Cooper), a compulsive thief, pockets some of the batteries, himself, suddenly making the Guardians the new enemies of the Sovereigns. These metallic humanoids then launch a chase which becomes the movie’s chief subplot.
The main story, however, centers on Peter’s reunion with his father. In Volume 1, we learned that Peter was the product of a union between an earthling and an extraterrestrial of some sort. Director James Gunn – who also helmed the first film – made his single best decision for the sequel in casting Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight) as Star-Lord, Sr. (not his real name, but I shall refrain from more spoilers). He and Pratt not only look like they belong in the same gene pool, but share many similar mannerisms. In Gunn’s single most uncanny-valley-like decision, the film opens with a prologue, set in 1980, in which a digitally youthified Russell frolics through a forest with his chosen one, pre-Peter. It’s amusing, but also a little creepy.
Not so the rest of the movie, which could use a little more genuine bite. Despite the stated high stakes (universe at risk, etc.), we always know our heroes will persevere. Paradoxically, the entire enterprise also feels as if everyone is trying too hard (though there is plenty of entertainment value to spare). Never has a laid-back vibe felt so sweaty. Bautista, in particular, crosses over into manic mode as he does double-duty as jokester and laugh track. Still, the music is good – Mix Tape #2 – and everyone still has their charisma. Oh, and did I mention that Sylvester Stallone (Creed) shows up for a surprise cameo? One could do worse. One could also do better.