Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell. Directed by James Gunn. Screenplay by James Gunn. Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Produced by Kevin Feige. Color. Runtime 136 minutes. U.S.A. Science Fiction, Fantasy, 3D.

One of the more pleasant surprises and there have been several from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was the Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) film that dropped onto the scene and was an enormous hit. Some would go so far as to claim that it was the best the MCU had offered so far. And as promised at the end of the first movie, the Guardians are back, as well as director James Gunn, and in the best Marvel sequel tradition, bigger than ever. Notice how I didn’t say better, just bigger. Not that the film is necessarily bad, just that it doesn’t quite reach the same level that the first one did.

Two months has passed since the last film ended and all of the main characters return: Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt); Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax the Destroyer (David Bautista); Baby Groot (Vin Diesel); Rocket (Bradley Cooper); Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker); and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They are supplemented by new characters, most importantly Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial who turns out to be Peter’s father. Along with Ego comes Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath. There are even a few cameos including Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord, a high-ranking Ravager with a history with Yondu and even David Hasselhoff playing, who else, himself. There are even smaller appearances by Ving Rhames and Michelle Yeoh, perhaps hinting at a future spin-off of sorts.

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is cute.

As with most sequels, the story is not only a continuation of the storyline, but it also ramps up everything. Relationships are the glue that holds the Guardians together, whether it is friendship or love or some combination of the two. Those are further explored here as well, though for the most part the characters don’t change drastically from how they’re presented in the first film. But the biggest relationship in this film is between Peter Quill and Ego, though of all of them that get re-examined perhaps more interestingly is Yondu’s with just about everyone. There is more to him revealed in this film than just about anyone else.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally meets his biological father, Ego (Kurt Russell).

In addition to the main story of Peter meeting his father, the Guardians do work for and betray the Sovereigns, a race of supposedly perfect people with golden skin and very, very high opinions of themselves. To cross them is punishable by death and guess what, the Guardians cross them. While their pursuit of the Guardians takes a somewhat back seat to the main action in the film, we’re not done with them as they promise to be back in Guardians 3, which no doubt we’ll see in a few years’ time.

Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the High Priestess of the Sovereigns.

Music plays a major role in the sequel as well as it did in the first film, though I would say not as effectively. While Vol. 1 had been mostly one-hit wonders, Vol. 2 represents much larger acts, including George Harrison, Cat Stevens, ELO and Sam Cooke. Sometimes the music makes the right impact, Stevens’ Father and Son off his Tea for The Tillerman album, but sometimes it misses the mark including the use of Harrison’s My Sweet Lord.

As with any Marvel sequel, the special effects are ratcheted up, too. Bigger and more impressive being the goal. But as with any film reliant on FX sometimes the story gets a little muddled along the way. It is clear that Quill must stop the goals of his father, but what’s not really clear is what or why his father feels compelled to carry out his evil plans. There are some also some, I’ll say, funky uses of special effects, like a series of tableaux’s we’re led to believe Ego has at the ready depicting his life and relationship with Peter’s mother. And, as with the Star Wars prequel, Rogue One and Tron Legacy, older actors have younger versions of themselves plastered over the faces of stand-in actors, in this case, Kurt Russell. Just as it didn’t work in Tron Legacy, it still looks less like a face and more like a plastic mask.

One of the hallmarks of the original film was the use of humor to keep the film from getting too grim or taking itself too seriously. That is present here as well, though it sometimes feels a little more forced and, as is the trend, the humor goes low. Rocket is still the foul-mouthed raccoon that he was in the first film and as such helps to carry the load of the put-down humor that dominates. But there is talk about poop and penises that I could have done without. And let it be known, I don’t ever need to see or hear another man take a whizz again on film. It never really makes things better or funnier.

A lot of the humor comes from Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

The film has its good points. The actors seem very comfortable with their characters and Kurt Russell seems to have been a good choice to play Peter’s father. But it is the ensemble cast that seems to make these films enjoyable. Diverse characters from different worlds thrown together into a makeshift family of sorts. The adventure they go on is almost secondary to their interactions with each other as they may fight, but they join together when they have to. These are characters that you want to follow wherever they go. Quite an accomplishment in and of itself.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax the Destroyer
(David Bautista) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) come to help Peter.

While the calculation was to make a film that you’d want to see again and right away, I can’t say that I’d be rushing back to see this one. As with most Marvel films of late, I will see it again, but maybe when it comes to home video (and yes, I still buy discs). That said, if you’re a fan of the Guardians or want to keep up with the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is worth seeing, but just don’t expect to like it quite as much as you did the first one.

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