The first instalment of Guardians of the Galaxy was treated like the second coming of Star Wars: Writer/director James Gunn took a long dormant and often derided sub-genre -the space opera- and treated it with enough respect to come up with a worthwhile film.
The praise, however, was disproportionate. Sure, GotG was cute, but didn’t reinvent the wheel. The villain was perfunctory and the McGuffin plot has been seen about a dozen times in the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone.
For his second turn at the wheel, Gunn doubles down on the most effective elements of the original: Broad comedy, rich soundtrack and candy-colored planets. Sure, the concept of “makeshift family” is beyond played out after twenty (approx.) Fast and Furious movies, but I’ll give Vol. 2 a pass on the strength of the characters, each one a fully developed entity (except Gamora, who remains underserved).
The sequel takes place three months after the events of the first movie. The Guardians have settled into some kind of normalcy as contract mercenaries. During one job they become in contact -and quickly have a fall out- with the Sovereign, a genetically engineered, highly advanced race that doesn’t take kindly being insulted and robbed by Rocket Raccoon, still a rascal.
As they try to escape the short-fused Sovereign, the group is rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell), a living planet who also happens to be Peter Quill’s dad (just go with it). The event splits the Guardians in two groups, Peter, Gamora and Drax head to Ego’s realm while Rocket, Baby Groot and Nebula reconnect with Yondu and the Ravagers, who are going through a crisis of their own. The gang thinks the blue commander has been too soft on Quill and is costing them money.
The narrative doesn’t matter here as much as character development or the generous helpings of humor, refreshing for the plot-driven MCU. If Guardians were a straightforward comedy, it would be the second coming of Airplane: Drax’ earnest delivery, Rocket’s insult comic act and Baby Groot’s childlike ineptitude are priceless. If it wasn’t for all the laughs, audiences may notice a ridiculously high body count.
The opening act represents the finest minutes of the saga: The Guardians try to dispatch an interdimensional creature, but the focus is not on the action, but the bickering and Baby Groot goofing around. It’s pure cinematic giddiness.
The Ego plotline is not a bad one, but by comparison feels anticlimactic. It mostly comes alive whenever weirdness is allowed in. Also, I like Sylvester Stallone as much as the next 80’s action dinosaur, but his presence here is barely justifiable. More to the point, how a feature featuring Sly and Kurt Russell doesn’t have any Tango & Cash references is beyond me.
The movie goes also for an emotional substance. This is a dicey proposition, given the jocular tone, the vast amounts of CGI and the jarring Eighties’ pop culture references. Despite a nice bit of retroactive continuity, it doesn’t have the punch of, say, Logan. At best, it’s sweet, much like the first one.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is so much its own beast, it’s barely connected to the rest of the MCU (chronologically, the events depicted here precede Avengers: Age of Ultron). This is refreshing: No connective tissue is shoehorned into the plot, halting momentum.
3.5/5 planets. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens tonight, everywhere.