Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki with Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell
Plot: While on the run from the law, the Guardians meet Ego (Russell) a celestial being who claims to be Star-Lord’s (Pratt) father.
I wouldn’t call my grievances with the first Guardians of the Galaxy film negative points as much as they were sad truths. I loved the first Guardian to pieces, have watched it three times (no small feat when you burn through movies as often as I do), and would happily quote it line for line, preferably while singing to Blue Swede in my kitchen. However, in delivering nothing but good old-fashioned fun to the audience, James Gunn let his story slide down the list of priorities, making Guardians an enjoyable romp through space but little else. Volume 2, bolstered by the unimaginable success of the five fringe heroes of the MCU, doesn’t feel the need to change this formula. Therefore, Gunn gives us the same movie as before, just louder, brasher and funnier.
Of course, it does mean all the problems I had niggling at me in the first one aren’t just back; they are renewed with passion. The story in the last one was a passable Marvel entry, sadly just bolted together by one of the weakest Marvel villains. The story in Volume 2 isn’t so much a story, as a bullet-pointed list of punch-ups and jokes. It opens with the Guardians killing a giant space squid over a hilarious opening credit sequence that keeps the camera fixed on the adorable baby Groot, dancing to Star-Lord’s mix-tape and leaves the big budget fight scene, out of focus, in the background. They collect their bounty only for Rocket to piss off the high priestess, because of ‘reasons’. Therefore the Guardians find themselves being hunted across the galaxy by Elizabeth Debicki’s pretentious priestess, where they run into Kurt Russell’s seemingly endlessly powerful being. He reveals himself to be both a god (or at least an alien that can create matter and live forever as long as the core of his planet is glowing), and Star-Lord’s father. The rest of events play out less than ideally, causing an over-the-top fight sequence that sends the movie out with a bang (as well as a surprising cameo from Pac-Man – don’t ask!) There are several side-stories tacked onto the narrative to flesh it out a little bit. Nebula is a wanted criminal, eager to break free and kill her sister at all costs. Yandu is back, scorned by Stallone’s super-raider (not in it as much as you want him to be), and subject to a mutinous crew. Star-Lord and Gamora are still denying each other’s feelings for one another. Rocket is still an asshole. It’s a very busy film, as works best with Guardians, but in having so much in the pot, every detail is only allowed a brief moment to develop. There are several moments that are meant to make you feel sad, but few rarely work. Take Karen Gillian’s Nebula, for example. For whatever reason, the MCU needs to make her more prominent for whatever it has planned with Infinity Wars, but as we left it in Guardians 1, she is little more than a brooding villain. The script adds layers to her here, and as her dialogue unfolds and we learn just what Thanos subjected her to, it is surprisingly sad. As is her growing fondness of the sister she claims to hate. But with a story set on fast-forward, we are told that we are meant to feel sad, rather than actually reaching that conclusion on our own. A hug between two warring sisters should have our heartstrings pulled, but it barely raises a reaction here. Nothing but the laughs quite hit home.
And this is largely due to Guardians’ biggest problem, the same problem I assumed it would have going in: it is trying just too damn hard to be liked. Guardians Vol 1 was funny, yes, but there was an air of uncertainty about it. Would we take to the unorthodox casting of Chris Pratt? How would the final fight involving Star-Lord challenging Ronan to a dance-off go down? Would we understand the Footloose references? Realising that the answer is a massive yes, Gunn rubs his hands together with glee and gets to giving us the film we want. And there is nothing wrong with that. The final result is a predictably crowd-pleasing affair with grins plastered over the audience’s faces for the duration of the feature film. But when a film is so identical to the version of it you had in your head, it also never quite exceeds any expectations, which is, in my opinion, when cinema gets the most exciting. The MCU have used this to their advantage before, giving us a thrilling ‘where-did-that-come-from’ ride with Winter Soldier or the smart writing of Thor, so he worked with a modern audience. The whole reason Guardians of the Galaxy worked so well last time was because it was a hundred times better than anyone thought it would be, when the pitch was first put online. Guardians 2 is exactly what you think it is going to be. And for that reason, a few people will love it. However, there is also t he argument that Guardians Vol 2 is a massive case of over-indulgence. The soundtrack was raved about, but here almost every mcok fight scene throws in a new retro song and has the gang march off in the distance to it. It’s funny on occasion, but not as often as Gunn seems to think it is. Some of the fight scenes are also that little bit too silly. Rocket blowing up horde after horde of bandits using land-mines is a step too far into the ridiculous. Michael Rooker’s Yandu takes out so many people with his personal ‘death-needle’ (what do you call that thing?) that is a wonder anyone is even brave enough to fight him. Surely the man is technically a weapon of mass destruction? And then there is the post-credit sequence, fast becoming a cinematic trend I am getting very tired with. Guardians of the Galaxy has five little gems tucked away in the end credits, most of them little more than just another joke. The Groot gag was admittedly very funny, but some may begrudge hanging on past the credits just for one more laugh. On the other hand, the actual credits sequence is pretty awesome, a retro vibe to it, with some good tunes playing over the top of it. You have not lived until you have seen Karen Gillian grooving out in full Nebula costume!
By now you are all probably thinking I loathed this movie. But that it not the case in the slightest. As a matter of fact, I loved it from start to finish. But as a critic, all of the good points I have for this review are the kind of arguments that you already know Guardians 2 is going to be excel at. The cast are superb. Chris Pratt goes from strength to strength, easily one of the hottest stars on the block right now, able to turn a whole fight scene on its head with a single quip. Bautista also deserves credit for shining with Drax. For a wrestler turned actor, Drax the Destroyer has truly unlocked Bautista giving him a role that he can use his muscles and natural talent to good use, yet adds a strong character that the man can sink his teeth into. It helps that the man knows how to land a joke. The newcomer on the block is Kurt Russell, enjoying a strong month with back to back successes Fast and Furious and now this. You could argue the two performances are similar, Russell using his roguish, twinkle-eyed charm to good use. But Russell is the kind of actor that can turn the worst script into a delightful soliloquy of sounds. At least unlike Fast 8, this script meets him halfway, one sequence where he simply speaks the lyrics of a song playing in the background oddly captivating in an effortless way only an actor of Russell’s caliber can manage. Outside of the acting, the jokes are great fun. While you might be dissuaded that the writers are always picking a good joke over a strong fight scene, some of the set-pieces the writers come out with are genius. The stand-out joke sees Star-Lord whipping around a frenzied battle asking his comrades if anyone has some tape on them. Guardians of the Galaaxy Vol 2 is far from perfect, but when you settle into the fact that this is little more than a comedy, disguised as an over-the-top space opera tinged with superhero antics, then it becomes a much easier pill to swallow. It doesn’t hurt that Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain is used not once, but twice.
Final Verdict: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does little more than deliver on promises, but there is a relaxing charm to its confident swagger.