Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 picks up just a few months after Vol 1. left off, with Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora, (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and now Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), saving the galaxy once again. Ravager captain Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Gamora’s cybernetic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) join the team along with newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Kurt Russell also stars as Quill’s father, Ego The Living Planet.
It’s always great when you have a smile on your face the second a movie starts. Writer/director James Gunn, arguably the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s only remaining auteur, wastes no time dropping you right back into the rhythm of what made his first installment so special. Where the last film teased the audience with a twig-sized Groot moving and grooving to Jackson 5’s “ABC,” Vol. 2 opens with Baby Groot scooting along to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra while the rest of the Guardians fight for their lives against a giant pink tentacled monster that shoots rainbow flames from its mouth. It’s nothing short of delightful.
What was most impressive about the movie was how moments like these progress our understanding of the characters in favor of hackneyed plot devices like the McGuffin of the previous film, the Infinity Stone-concealing orb. For the majority of this movie, we learn about the characters through their actions. For example, Rocket’s snide sarcasm is a front for his physical insecurities (don’t call him a raccoon!) and Nebula’s rage complex covers up her yearning to be accepted by her sister as an equal. In no one, though, is this more evident than Yondu, who is given the most development by far. Rooker lends a surprisingly poignant performance to this multi-layered, blue-skinned alien and his arc is one that won’t soon be forgotten by Marvel fans.
Since these weird and outlandish characters are the driving forces behind the film, with them is going to come a lot of humor. For the most part, the comedy really lands here. Bautista is the source for many of the one-liners as his character is still struggling with grasping the concept of metaphors. At one point, he calls Mantis’ bug-eyed visage “horrifying” but it’s okay because beautiful people never know who really love them. I would say the jokes land about 90% of the time, with that last 10% coming at seemingly more emotional parts that feel out of place when they’re undercut with a chuckle.
Two elements of this film that set it apart from its predecessor were the color palette and shot compositions. Bright, vibrant hues embody every inch of the screen, everywhere from Saldana’s green skin tone to the orangey yellow vistas of Russell’s home world. These tints prove more pleasing to the eye when placed in uniquely framed images that really stand out amongst some of the usual CGI-laden destruction. A particular shot of Pratt’s Star-Lord sitting alone in a pastel spacecraft listening to his infamous Walkman comes to mind.
Most noticeably, though, Vol. 2 goes without a solid narrative force in its first half. The team splits up around the end of the first act, where Quill, Gamora, and Drax join Mantis and Ego to try and get answers to some questions. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot, and Nebula are left to interact with Yondu and his Ravagers, including first mate Kraglin, played by the underrated Sean Gunn, brother to James, who also delivers a standout performance. Here, Russell is left to deliver a lot of exposition while the Ravagers provide the mandatory Marvel action sequences. It isn’t until about half an hour later when the real villain of the film is revealed that gets things back on track. Even though I’m always in favor of more fleshed-out characters that drive the story forward (which is mostly what you get here), the definite lack of something substantial taking place in the “A” story stood out for sure.
Another trope Gunn uses for the sake of plot convenience is the appearance of the golden-skinned humanoid race known as the Sovereign. While their involvement is integral in the first act, their motivation for chasing the Guardians drags throughout the entire film. They show up at the most inopportune times simply to add higher stakes and a ticking clock. Though they did provide another source of comedy (their remotely piloted drones are driven by playing an ‘80s arcade-esque video game), I could’ve done without them.
Although it lacks a driving plot and at time gets a little too jokey-jokey, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is funny as hell, boasts expert character development, and shows off killer visuals.
4.5 out of 5 stars