The summer 2017 moviegoing season officially arrives with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. The sequel is pretty much Guardians of the Galaxy squared and, at its best, on laughing gas.
The first Guardians was such a kick because it was an out-of-nowhere fastball that broke the Marvel mold. Scaled-down, spoofy, unpretentious and free of tiresome handwringing over the Hulk and Iron Man’s unending internal crises, it made comic book flicks fun again.
It was a wacky, loose-limbed, B-movie featuring cool ‘70s pop tunes, snappy banter, and a likable misfit team of rascals, crooks, and mercenaries including Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and the scene grabbing Groot (grunted by Vin Diesel). Once again, James Gunn is the writer-director-ringmaster.
Vol. 2 is not as spry and stupid-smart as is the first one, mostly because it occasionally buckles under the weight of excess baggage in the way of plot, theme, and message. The McGuffin of the first Guardians was that magic orb pursued to here and gone by a deranged villain out to obliterate the galaxy. This one has the crew of the Milano space craft being terrorized by an battery-powered, gold-plated alien race called the Sovereign.
Rocket kicks off the plot by stealing their batteries and arousing the wrath of the Sovereigns’ protector, the haughty High Priestess Ayesha (the stunning Elizabeth Debicki in another arresting performance). So far, so good. It’s when the ship crashes on the planet Berhart that the Big Themes come lumbering along, though. Where the first movie trod more lightly on the importance of family building and the longing to repair childhood wounds, this one lays it on thick.
The ‘family matters’ plot points are mostly dumped on the character of the astral king of planet Berhart, the powerful Ego (Kurt Russell), who is presented both in a deeply creepy, utterly unconvincing “young” CGI version (think Carrie Fisher in Rogue One) and much more enjoyably in the flesh. Between this and his Fast and Furious gigs, Kurt Russell is riding high. Anyway, Ego turns out to be the father of Star-Lord. Prepare yourself for lots of, “Luke, I am your father”-type stuff.
Even more family stuff is provided by those perpetually warring sisters, the emerald-faced assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the bizarre and malevolent Nebula (Karen Gillan, late of Doctor Who) who are still nursing childhood grudges over which one of them papa liked best. The movie is almost like an outer space mash-up of a Fast and Furious flick and a John Hughes high school dramedy. Big, broad, cartoony, and vividly-colored, the movie features lots of frenetic but suspense-free chases, aerial dogfights, and action sequences.
And though it’s funny, likeble and playful – especially when perpetually shirtless, overly-sharing musclehead Drax takes center stage (Bautista, flat-out rocks the role and ruling the movie) – Gunn’s plot threads weirdly meander, the thing doesn’t move like a bullet train the way the first one did, it goes on so repetitively that it gets on your nerves rather than delights and the sentimentality cloys.
The Guardians will be back, we’re promised.
Hopefully, next time with more weirdness, playfulness, and plain old fun.