Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn, Chris Sullivan, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rosenbaum, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, David Hasselhoff.
Director: James Gunn
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures.
Written by: James Gunn, based on the comic book series “Guardians of the Galaxy” by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, with specific characters created by Steve Englehart & Steve Gan, Jim Starlin, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby, and Bill Mantio & Keith Giffen.
Part of the problem with having a calculated risk reap massive, slightly unexpected rewards, is the desire to recreate the magic and try and do it all over again. In 2014, no one expected Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy to fail necessarily, but it marked a shift in tone from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Whereas in the past, humor had been as momentary diversions or cynical stabs of satire, Guardians was the first all-in comedic action movie for the studio.
And audiences loved it, ticket sales soared to $773 million worldwide and more than $333 million in North America alone. To this date, the film ranks as the largest grossing non-sequel in the Marvel Studios canon and so, inevitably and naturally, we are getting the band back together for Vol. 2, the official launch to the 2017 Summer Movie Season.
Everyone is principally back in the fold, with director James Gunn authoring the screenplay, finding our ragtag, motley crew of Guardians, and the adorable and undeniable show-stealing Baby Groot, not only again trying to save the universe, but following through on their larger mission…
Set up future films in the MCU.
Before we get to all the future stuff, we find ourselves watching an overlong, but energetic 136-minute summer romp. The 70s music soundtrack, and cool arrogance of the time period, underscore much of the uniqueness which sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart from everything else in any superhero universe, regardless of moniker.
Following some jarring CGI, used to make a main character resemble his much younger self, we open with the Guardians battling a nasty, slovenly beast, while Baby Groot dances to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” The comedic flourishes here are undeniable and instantly, Baby Groot becomes the most adorable and engaging character in the entire MCU. Once the battle is won, Peter, a/k/a Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) begins wondering out loud about his father to Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Lo and behold, some time later, a spaceship arrives before the Guardians and out walks a man who identifies himself as Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego, it is revealed, his Peter’s long-lost father.
The Peter/Ego story provides an overriding theme of family and camaraderie, which Gunn explores time and again in Vol. 2. Though they bicker and pick on each other, these Guardians would seemingly be lost without the other. Drax (Dave Bautista) is more jovial than before, Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is more cynical and cocky than ever, Gamora, remains the serious one, Peter, the de facto leader, and Baby Groot, a childlike companion everyone looks out for and essentially “parent’s” at one time or another.
The fight against the beast came at the request of The Sovereign, a golden-hued, genetically superior people who hired the Guardians to protect some important batteries. Job complete, Rocket’s careless thievery of said batteries makes them the enemy. Complicating matters, it was Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who initially attempted to steal the batteries in the first place. So with The Sovereign feeling betrayed by the Guardians, and Nebula now in their possession, and Peter’s Dad arriving – melodrama runs amok for our Fantastic Five.
Elsewhere, the Ravagers are in the mix of all of this, with their leader Yondu (Michael Rooker) hired by THe Sovereign, once things go south with the Guardians. Although Rooker gives a solid performance, the film suffers a bit with the Ravagers’ involvement, the arc never quite finding the same rhythm and tone when Nebula and the Guardians cross paths with them.
If anything, there is a level of levity and humor that, more often than not, hits the mark. In comparison, Vol. 2 is probably more amusing than downright hilarious, although Bautista really steals the show with some awesome moments as Drax, who freely espouses whatever is on his mind, especially when interacting with Ego’s wide-eyed, antenna-clad assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Though we find Pratt more constrained this time around and Cooper’s hubris off the charts, what makes this so fun is that Gunn never takes his film too seriously. Even in the more melodramatic moments, he finds a way to make us smile or at least generate a chuckle. As a result, though 136 minutes does start to wear thin, we have enough good will established to keep us wondering what’s coming next.
Some intriguing cameos populate the film’s last half hour and maintenance is given to where the Guardians fit in the grand scheme of things in the MCU. Sylvester Stallone appears for a teaser of potentially something bigger yet to come – although acknowledging that any character from any Marvel movie may be in line for a spin-off might make more than a few of you out there bang your head against the wall.
Gunn feels like he’s playing with house money, and the carefree feel of the film really makes this whole endeavor work quite well overall. Plus, kudos to the makeup and effects teams who worked on Vol. 2 because this film is stunning in its visual presentation. The sound design is nearly perfect, the Travis Bates score mixes wonderfully well with the kitschy AM radio song score Gunn implements throughout. We also have some fantastic production design, both wide-scale and intricate and small, including a captivating use of imagery in depicting memories Ego shares with Peter regarding his mother.
Overall, tabulating the pros and cons, this is a perfectly fine summer movie and nothing to get agitated over. Say what you will about the Marvel/DC feuds raging on social media, but no one can make the argument that Guardians of the Galaxy is joyless or dark or bleak or dreary. If anything, Vol. 2 is that second iced tea you drink on a summer’s day to cool off when you don’t really need one.
You like it, it tastes sweet, it satisfies.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- A great launch to the summer movie season. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 might be a step behind the first film, but there is a lot to like here – visual effects, sound, comedic interactions with some great characters and a fantastic overall presentation. Top notch all the way around.
- Baby Groot. I kid you not. Greatest Marvel character ever. Like ever ever.
- Props to James Gunn for just having a “Go-for-broke” mentality and having fun with his cast and crew. Perhaps audiences respond to this so well because it feels carefree and relaxed, not as domineering as Deadpool, yet not as calculated and Boardroom controlled as some of it’s colleagues in the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- If you did not find the first film funny or engaging, you will likely be more annoyed with Vol. 2.
- The film could really benefit from being 15-20 minutes shorter. Not everything scores big points here and some tightening of the screws could have really enhanced the film greatly.
- Show of hands: Who cannot keep track of all these characters and how they connect and why they matter? Less this film and more the MCU in general, the references are becoming too “inside baseball” for mainstream, general audiences who do not read the comic books. Moving forward, Marvel needs to find a way to find the sweet spot between those who devour all Marvel content and those casual moviegoers who watch a Marvel movie every now and then.