Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review: A Solid Start to the Summer Movie Season

Superhero movies are going to be coming down the cinematic pipeline for many years to come. The same can be said for superhero sequels. It’s inevitable, but, when they bring in the big bucks, it’s also understandable. And yet, for many reviewers out there, who sit through more than 100 movies each year, it also becomes wearisome to see another origins story and another sequel to said origins story. You have to watch so many different movies to figure out who or what fits where in the timeline that, at a certain point, there comes a level of fatigue. Mine set in shortly after the bloated and underwhelming Avengers: Age of Ultron and hasn’t really let up. Granted, I’ve liked all the Captain America movies, and I’m okay with subjecting myself to comic book movies in general, but a lot of them feel like they were delivered from an assembly line. Even though they introduced us to new characters, their stories have all felt too routine.

This is why 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy was such a refreshing and enjoyable entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You didn’t have to watch all of the movies before it in order to get what was going on. It gave viewers a bunch of characters who weren’t as well known as Iron Man, Spider-Man, or the Incredible Hulk, and that’s okay. They were able to carve out a name for themselves with their wit and charm. You have a wise-cracking, arrogant yet lovable thief named Peter Quill, who calls himself Star Lord (Chris Pratt); the dim-witted yet muscular and fierce Drax (Dave Bautista); the fearless Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the sneaky and selfish talking raccoon known as Rocket (Bradley Cooper); and his talking tree friend named Groot (Vin Diesel), who only knows how to say “I am Groot.”

Despite the unfamiliarity with the characters, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded because it felt fresh and new. Yes, it has some of the trademark Marvel stamps (e.g. obligatory Stan Lee cameo), and it is an origins story for these characters, but that’s fine. It’s a zippy, humorous, and fun action adventure filled with catchy tunes that derive from Star Lord’s Awesome Mix Tape that he got from his mom before she passed away.

Now, where does that leave Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Well, for one, the gang’s all back. The only exception is that we get Baby Groot (again voiced by Diesel, but altered to make him sound younger). And he’s as adorable and as fun to watch as you’d expect. It’s a bit of an easy trick for James Gunn and the rest of the crew to focus on Baby Groot doing things like trying to figure out how to activate an explosive device and scaring the pants off of evildoers despite his height. But, guess what? It works, for the most part. Sometimes, it almost feels like they cut to him just to get an easy laugh.

You don’t have to watch anything in between the first Guardians of the Galaxy and the second one in order to fully understand what’s happening. It keeps itself detached from the Marvel Cinematic Universe enough to create its own adventure. There are some nods to other entries, even one for the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok that appears during the credits, but it’s able to not get too involved with other films. It does set itself up for a sequel, which is already in the works, and there are some slight nods toward the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, in which the Guardians will appear.

Like a lot of sequels, this one doesn’t have the novelty of its predecessor, which was bound to happen. It’s still fun to hang out with these characters and see where their stories are heading, but there are moments where it feels like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes on more than it can handle. Unfortunately, the surprise element that the first one brought isn’t felt here. That doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t work.

In the opening sequence, our heroes are fighting some intergalactic octopus along to the tune of Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Since Baby Groot is obviously too small to fight this creature, the camera focuses on him as he dances and runs around, effortlessly trying to get their attention. It’s a moment that carries the same vibe as its predecessor and is a brilliant start to the film, looking like it was all done in one take.

This battle with the space octopus leads a clan of gold-colored characters known as The Sovereign to hand over the imprisoned, estranged sister of Gamora, Nebula (Karen Gillan), to the Guardians. The exchange is going well, until Rocket decides to steal some batteries from The Sovereign for his own personal keep. This sends the gang into another battle, one they weren’t expecting, as they fly across the stars in an attempt to escape The Sovereign.

The Sovereign are the villains in this sequel, but they almost feel like an afterthought to the film’s overall focus. Shortly after their escape, the Guardians crash land on a planet called Berhart. This planet is run by a man called Ego (Kurt Russell), who turns out to be Star Lord’s father. Prior to this, we are shown how Ego (a younger, CGI-rendered Russell) and Star Lord’s mother were lovers, speeding down the road while blasting “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” on the radio.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 becomes a deeper, more character-driven and emotionally explored effort than its predecessor. The relationship between Star Lord and Ego takes center stage, but even the other Guardians get an ample amount of time to explore their lives and make a connection to those around them. Gamora and Nebula bond, despite having been distant from each other, while Yondu (Michael Rooker) ponders his role as the adopted father of Quill.

A lot of it focuses on the importance of family, blood-related or not. Although the Star Lord/Ego relationship takes up most of the run time, Yondu’s exploration is also fleshed out with a lot of emotional moments. Rooker, who was great in the first film, takes it up a notch and truly nails it here.

This change of approach works for a while, but then Gunn decides to bring The Sovereign back into play for more danger for our heroes. After spending so much time on the familial aspect, it makes one forget that these gold-plated space invaders are even in the film. The same can be said for Sylvester Stallone, who barely has any screen time to do much with his character.

Despite suffering from having a little too much for its own good, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still packed with enough excitement and laughs that make it breeze right along. The returning cast members are still a blast to watch, exchanging quips and spouting out one-liners that make it difficult to not grin. Some of the humor is a little forced, but when it works, it’s a riot. Bautista gets the most jokes of the bunch, and his throaty laugh is infectious.

The chemistry between Pratt and Russell is spot on and affectionate. Some of the catching up moments are typical scenarios you might find in other movies involving family bonding, such as playing catch, but it’s given its own nifty twist that makes it charming. Russell, a newcomer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is having the most fun of all the new cast members.

Like its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is chock-full of hits from the 70s that play throughout the film. The choices here, while all great, almost feel a little too obvious and hammer home the message in some cases. But, at the same time, it’ll be difficult to get them out of your head. I still have “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” “Mr. Blue Sky,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” stuck in mine.

Yes, it may be trying to replicate a lot of what made the first movie work, and it may be trying a little hard in doing so. But Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a thrilling way to kick off the summer season. I wouldn’t mind seeing these characters in action again, although I would appreciate it to be more focused than it is here.

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David Wangberg

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