Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Three years ago, the world fell in love with the Guardians of the Galaxy, a rag-tag group of intergalactic misfits who banded together to save … well, the galaxy. It was a risky venture for Marvel Studios and its president Kevin Feige, who decided to give one of their lesser-known properties the A-grade treatment, with (relatively) untested blockbuster director James Gunn taking the reigns. Then ‘wham bam thankyou mam’ the gamble payed off as Guardians of the Galaxy became the highest grossing film of that summer, Gunn turning its wacky, off-beat characters — such as a tree-like humanoid named Groot and his furry wise-cracking accomplice, Rocket — into household names, all of its ‘out there’ aliens becoming a part of the pop-culture zeitgeist. That’s not all, the film propelled Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt — who portrayed half-human, half-alien space cowboy, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord — into stardom, while kick-starting the acting career of former WWE World Champion Dave Bautista, who had only appeared in a handful of films prior. And don’t get me started on its platinum selling soundtrack, Awesome Mix Vol. 1, which featured the likes of Blue Swede, 10cc and David Bowie.
If the tagline ‘Obviously’ wasn’t a dead-set giveaway, a sequel was green lit almost immediately, returning writer-director James Gunn promising fans that his second Guardians ‘mix’ would unveil more of the mysteries surrounding Peter’s parentage. Alas, lightning-in-a-bottle rarely strikes twice, with all those involved (particularly Gunn) trying desperately hard to emulate that irreverent energy that made the first such a crowd-pleasing winner, proceedings, this time, feeling unduly forced as opposed to fresh and organic.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens with a rather strong prologue set in the ’80s, where we see Peter’s biological father (a young, de-aged Kurt Russell), court Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock), the pair driving along a Midwestern American road in an orange and teal Cobra, listening to Looking Glass’ ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).’ From there, we’re re-introduced to the Guardians, who are in the midst of completing a job for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the Golden High Priestess of the Sovereign people — a genetically engineered self-sustaining race of ‘perfect’ beings — the team tasked with stopping a squid-like goliath, the Abilisk, from devouring the planet’s precious Anulax batteries (some of the most powerful sources of energy in the known universe). But this skirmish is pushed to the background, as the camera is more focused on the now bite-sized Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) — who’s re-growing after sacrificing his adult body in Vol. 1 — bopping about to Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky.’
During the battle with the multi-dimensional monster, the impulsive Rocket (Bradley Cooper) manages to steal some of the batteries (which are worth quite a bit of Units), the Sovereign eventually finding out, with Ayesha sending an army of ‘very cool looking’ remotely piloted drones to capture the a-holes and retrieve their stolen goods. After a mysterious traveler saves the crew, their ship (the Milano) crash-lands on the forest-y planet of Berhert, where Peter is re-united with his long lost father, a celestial explorer who goes by the name of Ego, the pair forming a bond almost right away. Filling a massive void in Star-Lord’s life — Peter having carried a photo of David Hasselhoff around as a kid, convincing his Earthbound peers that ‘the Hoff’ was his dad — Ego offers his son a chance to travel back to his home planet, also called Ego, where he promises to make up for lost time, recruiting Star-Lord to help out with his most important mission yet. Now, with the gang split up, Rocket and Baby Groot remaining on Berhert to repair the craft, and Peter, the literal-minded Drax (Dave Bautista) and the alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) trekking to Ego’s planetary abode, it isn’t long until certain members of the troop begin realize that something strange is afoot.
Working overly hard to deliver a sentimental message that shouts ‘we all deserve to be loved,’ whilst exploring themes of family, connection and acceptance, the fifteenth film in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, feels excessive, schmaltzy and long, when it should’ve been quick, nippy and fun. To be fair, Gunn does deliver some well-timed old-school references — think Pac-Man and Cheers (1982) — alongside moments of inspired kookiness — a scene that sees Yondu, Groot and Rocket hop through space, their bodies twisting and swelling, à la Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990), being amongst its finest — but these are few and far between, with his script becoming more and more tangled the further it zips along.
With its ho-hum mid portion kinda dragging, a lot of Vol. 2 comes off as superfluous, the movie taking a while to wholly gel. Unfortunately, when the penny finally drops, the third-act showdown might induce yawns rather than cheers, the narrative introducing an archetypal, omnipotent universe-destroying foe just in time for a busy, CGI-infested final battle. What’s more, Gunn’s film is nowhere near as funny as it thinks it is, with jokes revolving around the non-threatening name of a Ravager who’s dubbed himself Taserface (Chris Sullivan) failing to hit the mark. Yes, Baby Groot is cute and his dancing (mo-capped by Gunn himself) quite amusing, but a lot of this is (obligatory) rehash, the fun-sized heroes’ best bit revolving around his failure to locate a new prototype fin (which Yondu needs to control his Yaka Arrow) that’s hidden somewhere in Taserface’s Ravager quarters. Just on that, remember when Yondu’s whirling thingamajig killed a handful of baddies in the first flick, well this time, it takes out an entire army of ‘soldiers.’ Really?
Shot with RED’s new 8K-camera system, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of Marvel’s better looking features, with Gunn and cinematographer Henry Braham, The Golden Compass (2007), showcasing an array of richly detailed worlds (the pulpy Sovereign planet, a groovy highlight) and vibrant space-scapes, all of this amid a smorgasbord of pulsating colors. It’s interesting to note that Gunn avoided the use of ‘purple’ (whenever possible), seeing as it was the prominent color in the original’s overall palette. Similarly, the score by returning composer Tyler Bates is hella good, so too are the movie’s various song choices, which include the likes of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home to Me,’ Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord,’ the overall soundtrack, in my opinion, better and more fitting than the first.
And what Marvel movie is complete without its Easter Eggs and cameos, Guardians Vol. 2 being no different. Sylvester Stallone, The Expendables (2010), looks right at home portraying Stakar Ogord, a high-ranking Ravager who shares a complicated history with the blue-faced Yondu, while Michelle Yeoh, Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and Ving Rhames, Dawn of the Dead (2004), pop up as a couple of members of the initial comic-book Guardians team. Yep, Howard the Duck (Seth Green) makes another appearance, while the legendary Stan Lee has an odd cameo that sees him converse with a clump of Watchers, this vignette implying that his recurring character might, in fact, be a Watcher himself.
While all of the galaxy-savers get their individual moments to shine (each grappling with their own personal demons), only a handful of the cast truly stand out. Michael Rooker, Slither (2006), probably fares best as the mohawked Ravager Yondu Udonta, who, this time around, finds himself fending off a mutiny, one that leads him to fight alongside the Guardians, the ‘crook that raised Quill’ given the most rounded arc in the flick — plus, Rooker nails a Mary Poppins joke that’s sure to bring down the house. Zoe Saldana, Avatar (2009), is solid as the shapely green tough-gal Gamora, even though her ‘unspoken’ bond with the ever-charming Star-Lord is pushed aside for a less interesting sibling rivalry thread that sees Gamora make-up with her duplicitous bionic sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), continues to do amazing things as the lil’ snarling raccoon with a larger-than-life attitude, Rocket, while Vin Diesel, Fast & Furious 6 (2013), is once-again unrecognizable as Baby Groot, who’s thankfully not overused.
Of the new members, Australia’s Elizabeth Debicki, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), is sublime as the literal ‘golden girl’ Ayesha, whereas a gruff-looking Kurt Russell, The Hateful Eight (2015), seems to be having a great time as Ego the Living Planet, although his relationship with Quill is not nearly strong enough to justify the bulk of the movie’s attention. The newest oddity in the team, Mantis — an insect-like empath that can sense people’s emotions — feels mostly redundant, actress Pom Klementieff, Oldboy (2013), spending most of her scenes dicking around with Dave Bautista’s incessantly laughing muscle-man, Drax, who’s continually putting her down. Rounding off the ensemble, James’ brother Sean gets an expanded role as Yondu’s first mate Kraglin Obfonteri, whilst Farscape fans should look out for Ben Browder who shows up as a gold-painted Sovereign Admiral.
Given it’s top-notch make-up and VFX, excellent retro soundtrack and affable big-name stars, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is bound to be a galactus-sized hit, even if most will agree that this disjointed follow-up fails to reach the soaring heights of its ‘marvelous’ predecessor — where’s the dance-off, bro? Judging by the five excellent post-credit scenes, however, I feel as though the inevitable Vol 3. might be a lot better.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is released through Marvel Studios