Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan
Running time: 136 minutes
Picking up – and quite literally, crash landing – from where the first one left off, James Gunn’s quintet of space A-holes are back with more looting, Grooting, and another unquestionably catchy, toe-tapping, Spotify over-playing soundtrack.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 re-unites us with the Galaxy’s sassiest OGs, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), Drax (Bautista), Rocket (Cooper), and baby Groot (Diesel), as they attempt to evade incarceration and ultimately death from an alien race known as The Sovereign. Quill et al. are aided in their attempts by the mysterious, charming, living planet known as Ego (Russell) who claims he is Peter’s long-lost father…
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 re-wrote the rule book of Marvel superhero movies. Like Matthew Vaughn’s brilliantly rude, crude Kick Ass, Vol 1 came with that diamond in the rough element of surprise. It looked like Marvel and Gunn had taken the ultimate gamble, but their unlikely band consisting of a talking racoon, a green Lara Croft, a sentient tree, an ex-wrestler, and a relatively unknown, tubby US sitcom supporting player went all the way past judges houses to the live shows. Surpassing many of the Marvel Universe stalwarts in charisma, likeability, and box office returns, GOTG is a living, breathing, swearing example of what happens when the most irregular pieces are put together in the right way. It’s no surprise then, that all eyes were on Gunn and how he would tackle the notoriously difficult second album.
I am pleased to report that, unlike the frankly horrific follow-up to Vaughn’s film, Vol 2 is, on the whole, a resounding success. It gives us more of everything that was so great about the first galactic outing, with the addition of greater focus on Vol 1’s back-seaters in Nebula (Gillan) – Gamora’s cyborg sister – and Michael Rooker’s whistling space pirate, Yondu. The music is once again a huge, and important, pull; tracks that would previously have only ever been heard at an Uncle’s wedding or on a Father’s Day ‘Best Dad’ compilation CD have now been made synonymous with giant Octopus alien battles and asteroid field chases. Imitated, but rarely bettered, GOTG’s ability to bring together classic 80’s pop with camp, glossy science fiction and give us something irresistibly memorable both visually and aurally shows no signs of letting up.
Yes, unfortunately we can’t escape the same space mumbo-jumbo that featured heavily in the first film, and we still get lost when we delve into extensive talks of celestial beings and planet energies. But jargon aside, Vol. 2 is truly great fun that once again nabs sci-fi genre conventions and throws them back at us with tongue firmly in cheek – Quill continues to be a buffer, clumsier Han Solo, and baby Groot is a slightly ruder, miniature Chewbacca. Speaking of Groot, there’s scenes of the adorable, one-liner in abundance, building the case further that Vin Diesel’s best performances come as either tree or giant iron robot, and his only spoken words in any film from now on should be I.Am.Groot – in that order. Rooker, given much more screen time here, continues to hop between ally and villain; and not since The Wire’s Omar Little has a whistle been more feared. Quite unexpectedly however, in digging deeper into his allegiance to Quill, it is Yondu’s character arc that brings about the film’s true, genuine emotional weight.
As before, however, it is Dave Bautista’s matter-of-fact, unfiltered Drax who steals the show, and once again delivers the best lines in a film that’s at its best, and funniest, when our heroes are at each other’s throats. After all, this is also a film about family; from biological fathers, to surrogate ones, to sibling rivalries. And all the best families get kicks from bickering with one another – and this is certainly no different.
But if this is when GOTG Vol. 2 is at its best, it’s at its worst when it feels obligated to introduce villainy of the most generic kind. Jokes start to lag and linger – one about a character named ‘Taserface’ would have been far funnier during writing, one imagines – and the climatic revelations and final face off seem both unremarkable and seemingly defunct of anything other than a hollow CGI show reel. It’s a shame that it loses its way at the crucial moment when, for the most part, this is a sound, worthy, ingeniously cameo-filled follow-up.
Perhaps slightly more concerned with giving us more of what we adored so much the first time round than it is with giving us anything interesting narratively; nevertheless, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 passes the sequel test without ever being as good or as fresh as its predecessor.