Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki
James Gunn

It’s hard to believe that most people had never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to 2014, because in the three years since the release of the first movie, they’ve become some of the most popular characters in the entire MCU. While there was certainly an immense amount of pressure on returning director James Gunn to create a worthy follow-up, you wouldn’t know it from the self-assured confidence that the film exudes. Admittedly, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” isn’t as fresh as its predecessor, but it’s almost as much as fun, and that’s to the credit of Gunn and his excellent cast, who have once again delivered an offbeat, action-packed space opera (with yet another killer soundtrack) that doesn’t skimp on humor or heart.

After saving the universe from Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians have parlayed their newfound fame into a lucrative career as mercenaries. But when they’re hired by a race of pretentious, gold-skinned beings called the Sovereign to kill an interdimensional beast in exchange for Gamora’s captured half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), the Guardians manage to piss off their employers by stealing some of the valuable batteries they were charged with protecting. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Guardians are rescued at the last minute by an ancient celestial entity called Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. Though Peter is thrilled to finally meet his dad and learn more about his secret heritage, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is suspicious of Ego’s true motives. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is recruited by the Sovereign’s High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to track down and apprehend the Guardians for punishment, leading to a mutiny among his crew when he refuses to turn them over.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” begins with one of my favorite Marvel set pieces to date: as Peter, Gamora, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) unleash holy hell on a giant tentacled beast, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) joyfully dances amid the chaos to the sounds of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” It’s a perfect representation of the light, fun tone that defines “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and although the movie never quite reaches the same highs again (save perhaps for Yondu’s climactic action scene), the opening sequence sets the stage for what’s to come. “Vol. 2” is a much funnier movie in many respects, but it also has a richer emotional throughline. If the first film was about the Guardians becoming a family, then the sequel is about them trying to stay together – something that’s easier said than done for this dysfunctional group of misfits.

The main cast picks up where they left off without missing a beat, while Gillan and Rooker thrive in expanded roles that dig deeper into their respective backstories. All of the new characters are great additions as well, especially Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, a socially awkward empath with the ability to read other people’s feelings by touching them. Her scenes with Drax, who gets stuck babysitting Mantis, earn some of the biggest laughs. Like most Marvel films, however, “Vol. 2” falls short in the villain department, though that has more to do with the fact that the main baddie doesn’t really appear until the final act. Instead, the Guardians must battle several different antagonists throughout the movie, including Gillan’s Nebula, Debicki’s Ayesha and Chris Sullivan’s aptly named Taserface.

Although the numerous villains overcomplicates things slightly and the father/son plotline doesn’t get the attention it deserves (Russell does a good job as Ego, but he’s woefully underused), the film as a whole expands the universe in so many exciting ways that the overstuffed script is forgivable. “Guardians of the Galaxy” may be primarily Peter’s story, but it’s the dynamic among all five members that makes it such a unique and entertaining property. “Vol. 2” is very mindful of this, and for the most part, it doesn’t disappoint. But while the movie lacks the surprise factor of its predecessor, the real delight is just getting to spend time with these wonderful characters again.