Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ shocked movie audiences and comic book fans when it came out in August of 2014. It was a film that flew its’ freak flag high, carving out a weird corner across the galaxy, away from the more grounded characters previously introduced in the MCU, but it all clicked. Sporting a bright color palette, quirky C-list characters, a winning cast, tons of laughs, and a killer classic rock / Motown soundtrack, the original GotG was a surprise smash, making the water safe for the cosmic side of the burgeoning Marvel Universe. The movie likely succeeded based on the passions of its’ co-writer / director James Gunn whose affinity for the Roger Corman B-movie oeuvre are at the forefront of his work. Now he’s back (with some more friends) for the promised sequel, ‘Vol. 2’, a fun, and even weirder tale of the disparate group becoming a family, albeit some members with some serious daddy issues.
Continuing basically where the previous movie left off, the Guardians – Starlord/Peter Quill (the always charismatic Chris Pratt now showing off some more range), Gamora (Zoe Saldana sparring with her ‘sister’, Karen Gillan’s Nebula), Drax (a hilariously literal Dave Bautista), Rocket (the unrecognizable voice of Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel?!) – are heroes/mercs for hire. Their latest gambit leaves them stranded on a woodsy planet (following a wonderfully engaging Groot dance, slash background action sequence that leaves one smiling ear to ear), leaving them open to the emergence of Quill’s long lost father and re-emergence of the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Gunn’s go-to character actor, Michael Rooker, now with a bigger, more fleshed-out role). It was only hinted at in the first movie, but Quill’s parentage was released early on in pre-production – that Kurt Russell himself would be playing his father. Truly perplexing, and a significant departure from the comics, was that he would be playing the Marvel cosmic celestial character, Ego the Living Planet, who looks like this:
This crazy development, as explored in the movie, is even weirder than anything in the comics, but again, Gunn somehow makes it all work, despite some plodding exposition that drags the middle of the movie a bit, and again helps put aside any reservations the studio may have about committing to these types of stories.
The reason the outlandish nature of GotG works is because Gunn and his cast and crew are committed to the material. The characters and their motivations are clear and well-established, all of them yearning for connection but struggling against their own alienating personality traits. It all works because of the careful song selection that acts as the soundtrack to the proceedings and the inspired day-glo designs. It all works because the audience wants to hang out with these characters and the situations they find themselves are truly inspired. It all works because of Baby Groot.
The all CGI characters of GotG are some of the best representations of the technology to emerge. Rocket and Groot are true characters, and while audiences may marvel at the artistry of bringing them to life, the characters succeed because the audience forgets that they aren’t real. Now that Groot has been resurrected, he is a miniature version of himself, a childlike construct, no longer the team’s muscle, but still its’ beating heart. His antics in Vol.2 provide some of the heartiest laughs and are great examples of movie magic – a truly beloved character straight from the imagination that each character has both frustration and adoration for.
As this is a sequel, comparisons to the original are inevitable. While the novelty of the conceit is no longer fresh, there are plenty of sequences and character flourishes that enrich this corner of the galaxy. The fact remains that like any solid sequel, the positive elements of Vol. 2 can’t exist without the first movie – Baby Groot wouldn’t work without establishing the big guy initially, the mystery of Quill’s paternity holds no interest unless set up before, Gamora’s family situation has no bearing, etc. Even the overall idea of a comedic, action packed space opera, populated by an interesting variety of scheming beings, all backed by a killer soundtrack doesn’t have the shiny new excitement of its’ predescessor, but it’s still a lot of fun. This time around, Gunn and co. delve into the deep tracks of the Marvel cosmic universe and continue to belie blockbuster trappings, creating a convincing ‘family’ of A–holes . . .
Written & Directed By: James Gunn
Running Time: 136 min.
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- A-