Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan
Somewhere in the far reaches of space, on a distant alien world inhabited by a race of super attractive gold people, a band of five misfits do battle with a giant squid monster to the tune of ‘Mr. Blue Sky’ by Electric Light Orchestra. And just like that, during one of the most fun opening title sequences you’ll see this year, we’re back in the bickering, affable company of Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Baby Groot – our Guardians of the Galaxy – and yes, they’re just as great as you remember them.
Launching onto screens in the summer of 2014, the original Guardians of the Galaxy seemed like an odd choice for Marvel Studios. A studio that had branded itself upon fashioning a cinematic universe of superheroes, already well known in comic book lore, was now offering us a movie based off an obscure title, featuring characters that most people had barely even heard of, one of which was a cybernetically engineered raccoon with an attitude problem and a lumbering sentient tree with the vocabulary of only three words. A risky venture. But under the guidance of co-writer and director James Gunn, and the performances of the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista, the idiosyncratic film of a band of intergalactic miscreants and criminals managed a hefty $700m plus worldwide, transforming one of Marvel’s riskiest ventures into one of its biggest hits and arguably one of its most lovable.
Naturally then, with a first movie as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, it was always going to be a tough ask for a follow up to live up to. And so, it’s with a heavy heart to state that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does come with a modicum of disappointment. But only a modicum. Thankfully Vol. 2 has enough warmth, heart and visual whiz pop, whiz bang to sustain it.After a 1980 Earth-set prologue involving a meeting between Meredith Quill and Kurt Russell’s digitally de-aged Ego, the story picks up with our group of heroes on the wrong end of an arrogant gold tinged alien race named The Sovereign, after one of our heroes’ number took something that they perhaps shouldn’t have. After narrowly escaping in a breathtaking and visually arresting space battle, the group encounter Russell’s Ego, a living celestial being with the gruff dress sense of a 1970’s space rogue, who has the power to manipulate molecules and forge colourful, luscious worlds out of nothing but dust and rocks, who’s corporeal brain resides within the core of his home world. It’s quickly revealed that Ego is Peter Quill, aka Star Lord’s long lost father. Hot on our group’s tail meanwhile are the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who currently finds himself in the midst of his own internal power struggle and coup d’état.
There’s actually plenty to like about this new film. As you would expect, the cast are uniformly great, each actor easily slotting into their roles like they never left, their affable familial chemistry aided by Gunn’s (going solo on the writing side of things) sharp dialogue and strong character moments. It’s clear that Gunn loves every single one of these characters and he ably gives them all their time to shine. I mean, it’s hard not to be swept up by these characters. Indeed, this idea of family is what sustains the film, giving it its core and it is in the smaller details, the smaller interactions, that make Guardians Vol. 2 work so well.
Whether it be Quill and Rocket’s brotherly banter, little Baby Groot falling asleep upon Drax’s shoulder, or spending time with Quill in his room as he listens to music, it’s these moments that emphasize family that work best within the film. Amidst all the flashy visuals, the startling CGI moments, Gunn never forgets his characters. And speaking of Baby Groot, it should come as no surprise that, with his big adorable eyes, he comes incredibly close to stealing the whole thing out from everybody’s feet. Make no mistake, everybody’s going to want a Baby Groot by the time Christmas rolls around.Newcomers to the cast also fare well. Kurt Russell as Ego seems to be having a blast and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is a more than worthy addition to this roster, whilst veteran supports like Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Rooker’s Yondu are given far more pathos and depth than before. The film also bolsters a whole host of references and fun little cameos, any mention of which here would spoil the surprises.
Whilst Gunn is clearly in love with these characters, as he should be, unfortunately he doesn’t place them in a narrative that’s worthy of them. Some of the bizarre zaniness and risk taking that made the first film such a surprise and so much fun is a little underplayed here. That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair share of weirdness within Vol. 2, but now it all feels just a little too formulaic. Another galactic threat, another CGI menace threatening to wipe out life as we know it, blah, blah, blah. It’s all so samey and not worthy of our heroes’ time. Were it not for the ease of the interplay between the characters and the warmth and charm the performers bring to their roles, the film would perhaps be as forgettable as a doorknob.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not live up to the lofty heights of its predecessor, with an admittedly weak narrative that resorts to formula, but the ever-illustrious charm of its cast and the sharp dialogue and visuals make this prime blockbuster entertainment. Not a superior sequel, but a worthy one. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty great too, obviously.