GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2 review by Mark Walters – the cosmic comic book team returns

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2 review by Mark Walters – the cosmic comic book team returns

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When Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY hit theaters in 2014, it took a lot of folks by surprise as one of the best and most entertaining comic book films to date. Heck, even I was skeptical that a comic book concept featuring such weird characters and a cosmic setting could work, and that’s coming from a fan of the source material. This is where director James Gunn proved to be a brilliant choice to steer the ship, as his quirky sensibilities and unique comedic styling was a perfect fit for the material. It also didn’t hurt that the lead actor was Chris Pratt, hot off the overwhelming box office success of JURASSIC WORLD and THE LEGO MOVIE… making GUARDIANS his third giant big screen hit in a row. I’m honestly surprised Marvel Studios took three years to put out GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2, as fans probably would have flocked to it less than a year later. But with such a phenomenal first impression, can this eagerly-awaited sequel possibly live up to the hype it’s created?

At the end of the first movie, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his cosmic friends manage to save the galaxy from imminent destruction, but the audience is left with a bigger question… who was Quill’s father, and why did he leave him behind? This simple query is the driving force for the new installment, which opens with a flashback featuring Peter’s dad (a CGI-youthful Kurt Russell that is eerily convincing) and mother Meredith (Laura Haddock) driving into the beautiful countryside to share their young love. It’s quickly established that Quill’s would be dad has some special abilities beyond that of a mere mortal. Cut to present day on a distant planet, as the Guardians are awaiting the arrival of a giant space monster. They’re on a mission to protect some high-powered batteries owned by the Sovereign people (a race of gold-skinned aliens with no sense of humor), as this incoming space slug means to drain them. This begins a fantastic battle sequence in which Star-Lord (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight furiously while Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) dances to a classic rock tune… this long continuous “take” is actually the title credit sequence of the film, and it’s brilliant in that it sets the tone for what we’re in for – crazy action with hilarious visuals, ramped way up from what the first film gave us. That battle is followed by yet another conflict, this time in space, and our heroes are saved by a mysterious craft. They crash land on a planet, the craft lands next to them, and out walks Ego (Russell) and his empath assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Wasting no time, Ego reveals himself to the group as Peter’s father. As the story continues, the team starts to split up into separate journeys. Peter spends time getting to know his literally God-like “dad”, Gamora very roughly works things out with her jealous sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis spends time with Drax, and Rocket and Baby Groot find themselves trapped with Quill’s former keeper Yondu (Michael Rooker) when his ravenger men turn on him. As each pairing deals with their own individual conflicts, things build toward a shocking twist ending.

You can safely say that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2 is more consistently fun and hilarious than its predecessor in almost every way. James Gunn clearly saw how much audiences attached themselves to the humorous aspects the first film nailed so well, and he’s turned that comedy up to an almost-exhausting degree for the sequel. There are some scenes in this outing that are so effective they will have you laughing and clapping like a little kid, and judging by the audience reactions these outrageous undertones were a pretty smart move. But underneath the laughs and cheered moments, the film itself feels a little disjointed and at times kind of bloated. The first movie was a much more cohesive narrative and flowed rather well, but the sequel just sort of skips around into various scenes that (while well-executed) never quite seem naturally connected. By the time we get to the big reveal at the end, it’s hard to imagine everyone in play really understands or would even be able to process what is going on, much less deal with the consequences of it.

What works best in the film is the characters themselves and their interactions with each other. Gunn excels in finding comedic and sometimes highly emotional beats with these folks, and almost every role gets impressively expanded with added depth. The director also does something very smart in expanding and giving much more weight to supporting characters from the first film. Michael Rooker (who is a Gunn regular) as Yondu becomes such an impressive figure here and really shines in ways you’d never expect. If he wasn’t an audience favorite before, he’s absolutely going to be now. And James’ brother Sean Gunn (who is also the motion capture model for Rocket) also gets a much more expanded role this time as ravenger Kraglin, even set up for possibly more important things in future installments. It’s rare you see a sequel that does this sort of thing so effectively. Even Karen Gillan as Nebula carries more weight this time around, and her interplay with Zoe Saldana creates some great moments for the audience. But it’s hard to beat the father and son chemistry on display between Kurt Russell and Chris Pratt, who are so endearing together it feels like they were always meant to act in a scene. Pom Klementieff is excellent as Mantis, and Dave Bautista finds some terrific moments as Drax… the two of them together work quite well. Another standout role is Chris Sullivan as “Taserface”, one of the most accidentally hilarious characters ever to grace a Marvel movie, and sure to become an audience favorite. The only personality that kind of fails is Sovereign leader Ayesha (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who is intended to be the story’s central villain, but just never comes across as any sort of legitimate threat.

With a killer soundtrack that frequently pumps loudly through the speakers as the film rushes through its two-hour and 16-minute running time, this is definitely a pop culture experience that delivers heavily on the entertainment factor. And maybe, just maybe, that entertainment will be enough to allow audiences to forgive what is lacking from the whole exercise. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2 is a really fun movie, it’s just not a very good “film.” In the end it kind of feels like a necessary next chapter to tide fans over until the meatier AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR movie gets here, which is meant to be much darker and more serious that what most Marvel movies have delivered… and yes, the Guardians are in it, along with pretty much every other Marvel movie character. As for GUARDIANS Vol. 2, it’s quite enjoyable to see these characters again, and maybe that’s really all this sequel needs to deliver for moviegoers to feel satisfied. I’ll say this, I can’t wait to experience it again, if only to see some of the details I missed the first time.

Side note – as this is a Marvel movie, there is of course a scene in the credits… five actually, and some of them will likely not make sense to casual fans, but you still won’t want to miss any of them.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2 opens May 5, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.