The most enjoyable thing about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is exemplified in its very first action sequence. An alien race called The Sovereign have hired the guardians – Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon, and Groot – to protect some highly powerful and very valuable batteries from a giant space slug. An epic battle ensues as a backdrop to the opening credits. There’s plenty of razzle-dazzle special effects work and camera trickery in this sequence, to be sure, but the real focus isn’t the fight at all. Groot, the 12-foot tall extraterrestrial tree-creature, sacrificed himself in the first Guardians film, and regenerated as a tiny seedling now known as Baby Groot. Obviously, he’s not much help in this fight. Instead, director James Gunn has him avoiding danger by showing off some hilarious dance moves to Electric Light Orchestra’s classic hit Mr. Blue Sky.
It’s a clever, goofy way of launching directly into the oddball sense of humor that made the original movie from 2014 so entertaining. There’s plenty of that vibe present in Guardians 2, but the movie also suffers from an overstuffed plot and some clumsy attempts at "franchise care", a term I first heard used by film critic Josh Larsen. It also features a final action sequence that becomes tedious and relies heavily on the “city in peril” trope. Although, to be fair, Gunn, who wrote as well as directed, upped the ante, and made it a “universe in peril” climax.
There are at least four subplots in this picture, and one subplot of a subplot (more on that later). The main story focuses on half-human half-alien Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, finally discovering who is father is. His name is Ego, and it turns out he’s a Celestial, a god-like creature with far-ranging but somewhat limited powers. In a casting coup of epic proportions, Gunn secured the talents of Kurt Russell to play the brash, cocky Ego. Mr. Russell revels in the role. It’s a character type on which he’s built his acting persona, and it’s a treat to watch him do his thing. It’s a major disappointment, then, when Russell disappears toward the end of the film. His character transforms into a pixel parade. It’s the kind of soulless CGI that kills any connection an audience might have had with what’s happening on screen.
Elsewhere in Guardians 2, The Sovereign are determined to punish our heroes when Rocket decides to steal some of the very batteries they were hired to protect in the first place. The price of fighting the space slug was The Sovereign turning over Gamora’s estranged sister, Nebula, to the Guardians. Nebula wants to kill Gamora because she blames her sister for the cruel treatment she received from their father, Thanos, when they were growing up.
The subplot of the subplot comes when Nebula works out a deal with Peter’s adoptive father/kidnapper Yondu to help her get vengeance on Gamora. Yondu himself is dealing with being exiled from the criminal Ravager community after they discovered he engaged in their one verboten act: child trafficking. Add to all this the character Mantis, an alien empath who Ego raised as a kind of pet, and you get an idea of just how unfocused the story of Guardians 2 feels.
There’s so much going on, in fact, it’s almost forgivable that Gunn felt the need to give an entire dramatic arc to sisters Gamora and Nebula in one five-minute scene. Almost. Then I realized the likely reason for that arc was to set up events with their father Thanos in a future Marvel movie or movies. There’s that franchise care I mentioned earlier. These types of developments are the most off-putting aspects of the MCU, and they are one of the main reasons I hold these movies at arm’s length.
There are enough of the sarcastic/ironic humorous moments in Guardians 2 (this franchise’s bread-and-butter), however, to make overlooking its shortcomings much easier. At one point, Rocket and Yondu, in a classic survival-makes-strange-bedfellows scenario, must work together to get out of a prison cell. The weapon they need is stashed in a room filled with their sleeping captors. All Baby Groot has to do is sneak in, grab it, and bring it back to Yondu. Easier said than done, because the adorably simple minded Groot (he’s still a baby, after all) brings back wrong item after wrong item. This near slapstick routine is hilarious; it’s a highlight of the movie.
The endlessly charming Chris Pratt also brings his trademark self-deprecating style back to the role of Peter Quill. Ego is a Celestial, which makes Peter essentially a half-god. When the potential for creating whatever he wants finally dawns on him, the 80s-pop-culture obsessed Peter starts listing off a mish-mash of ridiculous items he wants to bring into existence. Heather Locklear and a giant Pac-Man are among them. “I'm gonna make some weird shit,” Peter tells Ego in a comically reverent tone.
Despite a meandering and unfocused story, and a final battle that far outlasts its welcome, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does offer up what most of us are looking for as spring turns to summer, and movies get bigger, louder, and more spectacular. There is a definite wow factor to the eye-popping visual effects and most of the action sequences. The real joy of the movie, though, is the absurdity that goes on during those action scenes, like a tiny tree monster dancing to 70s super hits.
Why it got 3 stars:
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a good enough time if you don't let yourself get too bogged down in all the subplots it tries to juggle. Just lean back and enjoy the soundtrack and the action sequences, which work, for the most part.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- Worth the price of admission: Hearing Kurt Russell recite the lyrics to 70s super hit Brandy, by Looking Glass.
- I had to laugh at myself when Peter is given an MP3 player as a gift. He's utterly amazed by this piece of technology that can hold 3000 songs. He isn't given an iPod, though. He gets a Zune, the now defunct Microsoft attempt at getting in on the MP3 player craze. I was a massive Zune fan (I still own 2, in fact), and I held on long after it was clear cell phones would be what we all stored our music library on.
Up Next at The Forgetful Film Critic:
- In space, no one can hear you dream... I mean, In space, no one can hear you eat ice cream... No, wait... In space, no one can hear you scream. Yeah, that's it. Next week, I'll be looking at Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe with Alien: Covenant.