Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Directed by James Gunn. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
When Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014, it was a bit of a gamble for Marvel, a movie based on a group of obscure comic-book characters with no signal-boosting appearances from existing popular Marvel movie heroes. The movie’s snarky, quippy tone, courtesy of director and co-writer James Gunn, was a minor departure from the bright but more serious previous Marvel movies, and the somewhat unconventional casting and soundtrack full of classic-rock deep cuts helped the movie feel like a scrappy indie rather than a giant corporate blockbuster. The gamble paid off, with Guardians becoming one of the biggest hits of 2014, but as the sequel arrives three years later, it’s gone from a dark horse to a sure thing, without much room for pleasant surprises.
Gunn returns as writer-director, and he doesn’t mess with the formula that worked so unexpectedly well last time. The tone is snarky and quippy (sometimes in a slightly forced way), the new casting is eclectic and the soundtrack once again resembles the kind of compilation albums that used to be sold on late-night TV (see sidebar). If you liked the first movie, well, here’s more of it, only not as refreshing or original. After teaming up to save the galaxy last time, the Guardians are now an elite (if dysfunctional) squad of hired guns, and following complications from their latest job, they’re split up and set on various courses until they come together for the action-packed last act.
For its first 90 minutes or so, Vol. 2 doesn’t really have a plot so much as it has a collection of subplots, and the eventual galaxy-ending threat doesn’t even manifest itself until that 90-minute mark. In the meantime, half-human team leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his long-lost father, a literal living planet known as Ego (Kurt Russell), while also navigating his potential romance with green-skinned teammate Gamora (Zoe Saldana). The rest of the team includes large lummox Drax (Dave Bautista), wisecracking humanoid raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the cute, plant-sized version of tree-creature Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), all of whom get their own issues to deal with.
And that’s not to mention all the supporting characters who show up to move the various plots along. When the big action finale does show up, it drags on for practically half an hour, and as ingenious as the special effects might be, the characters easily get lost in the CGI chaos. Still, the strengths of the original movie remain, including the cast chemistry, the clever one-liners and the sheer exuberance. Gunn leans a bit too hard on the sentimental themes, but when he has a group of characters this likable and charming, he can hardly be blamed for wanting them to be one big happy family.