Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Marvel Studios and writer/director James Gunn proved with 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” that superhero movies don’t need to feature familiar (usually white, male, special suit-wearing) characters saving Earth; they just need to be fun, dynamic and easy to relate to. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” doubles down on its investment in Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) among others, and it pays off.

It turns out great characters that have interesting, often-hilarious and sometimes even sentimental interactions with each other can cover up a plot lacking any kind of direction. The film doesn’t have a story so much as a few inciting incidents that create complicated scenarios for the characters to navigate. So the best one-sentence plot description is: After completing a job for the snooty, gold- embalmed Sovereign race and ensuing complications, the Guardians discover the truth about Quill’s parentage, which has to do with Kurt Russell’s character, Ego.

Gunn sews the movie’s story lines into the character dynamics. The Quill-Gamora unspoken romance, the difference in attitude between Quill and Rocket, the animosity between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) – whom they pick up as a prisoner from the Sovereign — in addition to the verbal sparring between everyone. It’s enough, because the characters already won audiences over the first time, and those same audiences will come out of this film even more invested in them.

Although Groot, especially in baby form, will have the most fans, Rocket in particular emerges as the Guardians’ most fascinating character. This movie is so overrun by CGI, but he feels as real as any of the actors. The character also gets a wider range to work with and Cooper absolutely delivers. Bautista also gets to show even more comedic range as Drax, who becomes more multi-note than simply the proud warrior who doesn’t understand figures of speech.

The script is so funny, so clever and so focused on blissful sci-fi action moments colored by ’70s and ’80s music that the finer details of the story are immaterial. The entertainment value is through the roof from start to finish despite the ways the plot seems to lack the appropriate stakes. It survives joke to joke, song to song even when this pattern starts to become a little predictable.

So this sequel succeeds in ways that good sequels succeed and struggles with the challenges most of these sequels face. Gunn and Marvel Studios have identified precisely what made the first movie great and bring it even more to the forefront, while the same old conundrum of what situations to put them in plagues this story. So the story takes the form of mostly arbitrary scenarios whose sole job is to set up the characters, humor and soundtrack for success.

To evaluate the action sequences would also lose sight of what this movie is. The action isn’t interesting; it’s more about the character dynamics that play into it and the moments of levity. No moment articulates this better than the opening credit sequence, which features a camera exclusively following baby Groot dancing about as the other Guardians fight a giant space beast in the background. There’s a beauty in the way the movie pulls itself away from the noise that so many action movies bombard audiences with, assuming we just can’t get enough of it. But if the action is going to be kind of low-stakes like it is here, better to turn it into about something more than just action.

If it was close before, “Guardians of the Galaxy” beats out “The Avengers” for best super-team after this one. In fact, they’re probably the best ensemble of characters in any action franchise in the modern era. Each of them brings something unique and consequential to the film. Blockbusters just aren’t doing enough of that, and it makes the flaws of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” effortless to overlook.


4/5 Stars


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Karen Gillam, Kurt Russell


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