It’s been nearly three years since director James Gunn brought together a group of wise-cracking intergalactic misfits in Guardians of the Galaxy, and audiences have been clamoring for a follow-up ever since the credits rolled on opening weekend.The nature of Marvel’s meticulously plotted and carefully scheduled film catalog resulted in a longer wait than most fans would have liked, but these A-holes are finally back on the big screen this weekend.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the team enjoying the trappings of fame that come with rescuing the universe from certain destruction, and the film opens with the group accepting a high profile (and high-paying) job to combat a fearsome beast on behalf of The Sovereign, a race of gold-skinned beings that have created an incredibly potent power source. Dismissing the haughty Empress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her subjects as “a bunch of conceited douchebags,” Rocket (Bradley Cooper) hijacks the coveted materials – which goes over about as well as you might expect.
After a massive space battle that feels like it exists more to show off the film’s impressive budget than its storytelling abilities, the Guardians crash land on a nearby planet where they encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), a mysterious traveler claiming to be Quill’s biological father. Coerced into returning to Ego’s homeworld, Quill departs with his long-lost pop, taking Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) along for the ride and leaving the wrecked ship in the hands of Rocket and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), whose maintenance efforts are interrupted by a visit from an old acquaintance.
Much like its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes excellent use of its classic rock soundtrack, perhaps nowhere better than the opening credits sequence, which will no doubt result in countless number of Baby Groot toys being sold. The little guy is undeniably adorable as he dances to the beat of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” and Groot’s transition from the hulking tree monster of the previous film to the wide-eyed, child-like being we see here completely alters the team dynamic, which serves to freshen things up a bit.
Not so fresh, on the other hand, is the near-constant stream of insult-laden banter, particularly between Quill and Rocket. Pratt may have done a tremendous job turning the smarmy and self-centered Star Lord into an endearing hero in the previous film, but this time around he often comes across as… well, kind of a dick. His best moments take place during Quill’s interactions with Ego, where Pratt lightens up on the shtick and taps into some genuine emotion, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t have more of these moments to offer. As for Rocket, he borders dangerously close to becoming insufferable here, which is a shame when you consider that he was arguably the heart and soul of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Elsewhere, Pom Klementieff steals scenes as Mantis, an alien with the ability to absorb the emotions of anyone she touches; Gamora’s cybernetically enhanced sister Nebula (Karen Gillen) returns to reignite their lifelong rivalry; and Quill’s former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker) puts together a band of ravagers to pursue a bounty. Both of these secondary plots intersect with the central narrative in interesting ways, and Yondu is responsible for one of the film’s most spectacular and hilarious setpieces, which takes place aboard a prison transport and features a body count that would likely cause John Wick to do a double-take.
Back in the director’s chair, James Gunn obviously had a significantly larger budget to work with for the sequel, and the results are a mixed bag. Alien environments like Ego’s homeworld look spectacular, as do the animations for Rocket and Baby Groot, but there’s an over-reliance on CG – especially during the third act – that leaves many of the action sequences feeling uninspired. The personalities and relationships that make these characters so endearing are frequently given short shrift in favor of a dizzying array of bright colors, incomprehensible shapes and rapid camera cuts, and the climactic battle feels absurdly grandiose, even for a franchise that revels in absurdity.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not quite live up to the original film, but that’s not entirely surprising – it was lightning in a bottle, so completely different than anything else Marvel had done before, and was received as a welcome change of pace from the typical superhero formula. The sequel hews much closer to the cookie-cutter template used for most of the studio’s offerings, but still offers plenty of the big laughs, memorable characters and eye-popping visuals that fans will be expecting.