Director: James Gunn | Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell | Distributor: Walt Disney | Running Time: 138 minutes | MPAA Rating: PG-13
The best and worst thing that can be said of the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy is that it’s more of the same. If you liked the last movie, you’ll be delighted to hear that Vol. 2 is just as abundant with crass, crude, cute and kicking 70s tunes. Not only are these elements present, but they’ve been doubled and smashed into 138 minutes. More subplots, more characters, more music, more slow-motion shots, more end-credit scenes and more than enough starship battles to make Star Wars blush. It’s rather surprising that, for as much fun as this movie transfers over from the previous film, it forgets to add the originality that made it stand out so well against the competition of other superhero movies.
The likable collective of losers are assembled once more, as charming, childish and blunt as they’ve ever been. Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) continues to make 1980s references nobody understands in a galaxy far, far away. The green-faced Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is still battling her sister Nebula and refusing her true feelings for Peter. The tattooed warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) hasn’t changed with his constant cackling, lacking of knowledge in metaphors and inappropriate dialogues. The smart-mouthed raccoon Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) persists in being a scoundrel, hoping to avoid being recognized as a rat or a puppy. And Groot is…well, he’s still a walking and talking tree, albeit now smaller and with the pitched up voice of Vin Diesel.
All of them are amusing together, but unfortunately spend most of the movie apart in hopes of forcing in the old theme of family. Peter finally finds his long-lost dad Ego (Kurt Russell) who just happens to be a god that can crete planets! This means that Peter is part-god and can also create things out of thin air. This is an amazing development and yet it appears to be the most underwhelming and least filmed arc of a movie trying to balance so many plates. I found myself more intrigued by Gamora’s sibling rivalry with Nebula, which was established in the last film and fleshed out more in this picture. I was more engaged with the cocky connections of Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) as they fight their way off a ship of Ravagers. Even Drax has a more charismatic relationship with equally blunt and doltish Mantis, an empath that is an expert at manipulating emotions more than understanding them.
The only character with a lesser arc than Peter is the pint-sized Groot, waddling around as he struggles to find something to do with his wee stature. His change in size and usefulness seems to be for two purposes: A) to sell a new plush for the kids and B) extract more coos and aww’s from the audience. And, yes, Baby Groot is cute for the opening scene where he playfully dances along to ELO while his comrades are being beaten by a giant monster. But that’s about all the sympathy he got out of me as his character is reduced to making doe-eyes and pretending he’s useful. This character relies so heavily on his cute factor that there has to be a scene where he is harassed, kicked and has beer poured all over him so we’ll feel pity for him. I pity him more for not having anything substantial to do in the plot.
There’s thankfully enough big laughs to make the rushed, stuffed and lacking script less distracting. Rocket channels the spirit of Bugs Bunny in how he gets the drop on some pursuing Ravagers, using a gravity mine to launch his attackers up in the air, send them falling to the hard ground below and repeat with stinker-worthy laughter. Drax wedges in plenty of amusing blunt talk, laughing so much at the absurdity of the action that I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. There’s also a bit of fun to be had when Peter uses his newfound god powers to construct the most ludicrous designs of 1980s pop culture.
I left the movie with a smile and plenty of laughs, but also a bit of disappointment that there wasn’t something more. The first film was fresh inventive with characters I’d never seen before, chemistry not present in any other hero ensemble and a unique sense of humor and style to stand out greatly from the competition. This sequel feels more as though it’s cozying up with these characters, packing them into a safe and expectedly pleasing package that serves up seconds as opposed to a new dish. This feels almost counterintuitive to the very nature of the first film which dared to be different, bold and exciting, where as Vol. 2 feels more like just another outing with our favorite characters.
Even with the reliance on a simple story that appears ripped directly from a 60s sci-fi show, complete with an early wink of a dark secret about Ego, I still applaud this film for retaining much of its own style to set it apart from other Marvel movies. All the locations feeling alien and richly crafted as opposed to dressing up a few sets to merely appear alien from a distance. There’s a plethora of CGI battles in the finale, but no big blue laser to stop from destroying Earth. There’s a cameo by a pop culture figure, but no insertion of Marvel characters from other franchises, helping the picture avoid the collective universe writing that usually gums up the narrative. And the humor has enough smarts and timing to avoid the usual cliches of when these overstuffed action films try to cram in some comedy. Vol. 2 is still the same old lovable Guardians of the Galaxy I fell in love with back in 2014 but offers little change as the characters tuck in for a safer outing. I only hope they can dance and shoot their way out of the same old antics in a third movie.