3 Stars out of 5
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was one of the biggest surprises of 2014. The movie featured a ragtag group of interstellar criminals brought together by a dangerously powerful glowing gem, and was a runaway success. It was a shock to its doubters and even the comic book characters’ most fervent fans. Now we’ve come to the next film in the series: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and while it certainly delivers on most of the elements people expect to see in a GOTG sequel, it tries too hard to be a bigger version of the first movie, and buckles under its own weight.
The story starts off only a few months after the first (how that gels with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s timeline, I don’t even know), with the Guardians taking a job to defend a planet of gold-skinned elitists called the Sovereign from an interdimensional monster. Racoon mercenary Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals a prized valuable from the Sovereign homeworld, and the Guardians are rescued from the angry aliens (hilariously portrayed as salty gamers piloting drone spacecraft) by a mysterious man who claims to be Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) father. Calling himself Ego, the character is portrayed by Kurt Russell in what might be one of my favorite new characters in the MCU so far.
The plot suddenly shifts gears to a completely different storyline that jarringly reminds us that Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers were characters in the previous film, though they (specifically Yondu) seem to have been upgraded to secondary protagonists. And through this plot thread, we’re introduced to Stakar (Sylvester Stallone), a sort of head Ravager that excommunicates Yondu from the organization, thus kicking off his narrative arc which will eventually intertwine with that of the Guardians.
If that sounded needlessly convoluted, it’s because that’s how the movie felt at times. Don’t get me wrong, most of the writing in individual scenes is fine. The problem is in how the entire movie comes together. There’s too much clutter. It feels too focused on setting up future movie plots instead of really digging into a main story.
This is a shame, because the central narrative of the movie—the relationship between Peter Quill and both his biological and adoptive fathers—is actually incredibly strong. Chris Pratt portrays Quill’s desire for a father figure believably, and Kurt Russell is just so damned likeable as Ego, even when the movie hints that he is not what he appears to be. He steals almost every scene he’s in and that’s not exactly easy when acting with such a star-studded cast.
Also notable is Ego’s attendant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, and has surprisingly heartwarming scenes with Drax (Dave Bautista). I actually really enjoy Batista’s Drax, and I’m annoyed that he received next to no real character development in the film. In fact, he was almost useless as a character, even during fights. The other character to suffer this fate is Groot. Look, I know Baby Groot is cute, and he even gets some funny scenes during this movie, but he outlived his welcome as soon as the end credits for the first GOTG finished rolling. There’s only one reason they kept him in a “baby” form for this movie: merchandising.
The last two members of the group, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket, deal with extensions of their problems from the previous movie: Gamora having to patch up her relationship with her estranged (and murderous) sibling Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Rocket having to repair his relationship with basically everyone around him besides Groot.
While the pacing and writing is a bit of a mixed bag, the visuals for this film was absolutely are not. Color abounds throughout the movie, drenching most of the landscape visuals, as well as many of the action scenes. The movie’s soundtrack is another winner, even when it indulged in one too many retro pop songs during climactic moments. That being said, there are a few set-piece action sequences set to music that are too entertaining to feel annoyed about the incessant soundtrack.
“Guardians 2” feels like a circus balancing act that tried to spin a few too many plates on its head. It doesn’t feel nearly as self-contained and as tightly-paced as the original, but it still manages to get a lot right.
Photo credit: Disney-Marvel