Expectations can be a powerful thing. Nobody expected GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY to turn out quite as well as it did three years ago. And yet the batty space-opera starring Marvel Comics D-List characters and directed by the guy who wrote the live-action SCOOBY-DOO set the world on fire and captured viewers’ hearts. So I’d like to warn you to subvert your expectations for VOLUME 2. Don’t worry, James Gunn’s sequel still good, but you’ll be left disappointed if you’re expecting something quite as special as last time.
The continuing adventures of the reluctant intergalactic saviours dubbed the Guardians of the Galaxy. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) finally reconnects with his long lost alien dad Ego (Kurt Russell), a reunion which brings with it a whole host of new problems for the cosmos.
The new additions to the Guardians lineup quickly feel like they belong. The adorable antennaed empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) brings innocence and idealism to the team and old frenemies Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) make the dysfunctional-family-in-space even more so. Michael Rooker is definitely the MVP here, with Gunn giving his long-time collaborator’s blue space pirate ample room to breathe and to grow, and the rest of the cast do what they do well (maybe not Sylvester Stallone, who despite seeing the film I am not sure why he was there or what he was doing). I found myself wishing Chris Pratt could have played his big moments a bit bigger, but his scenes with Kurt Russell on Ego’s Prog Rock album cover world (the contents of which I’m not spoiling) are still well worth waiting for.
It must be challenging for sci-fi filmmakers to avoid ripping off STAR WARS when their spaceships need to “jump” to another area of the starmap. Gunn and his imaginative effects team have come up with a neat visual of the ship shooting through a net of hexagonal cells, and they let their imaginations run riot elsewhere as well. From the slapstick result of henchmen tangling with Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) arsenal of mischievous gadgets, to a hive of laser-bots scuttling around the hull of a ship to get a better shot and another elegant action sequence proving Yondu’s whistle-controlled flying arrow is the coolest sci-fi weapon since the lightsaber.
The highlight of the whole affair comes early on with the opening credits, set to Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dancing to ELO as all hell breaks loose behind the blissfully unaware sentient sproutling. Elsewhere the music doesn’t pack quite the same eclectic punch as last time, and seems more incidental than essential to character. There’s a music-related gag at the end that falls a bit flat as well, and it comes at a point where Quill’s character might have undergone some important development.
I love that the filmmakers heavily lean on the pulpier, more OTT elements of the “cosmic” marvel universe, from a brief but explicit nod to Ego’s Living Planet form from the comics and that old sci-fi rag staple of a Big Glowing Space Brain making an appearance later on. Pre-Guardians vol. 1, it is doubtful if we’d have ever seen the like of these ideas with quite the same aesthetic in a major blockbuster, but with Vol. 2, DOCTOR STRANGE and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK, these are clearly films Marvel have faith in, and that’s encouraging to see.
Gunn’s script might not be as neat as the last one, but it’s full of good lines, my favourite being Star-Lord’s comment that Yondu, escaping from danger hanging on to his flying arrow makes him look “like Mary Poppins”. After a confused pause, Yondu responds, “Is he cool?”. The story offers few surprises when you know how sequels tend to go, but at least the finale, which at one point looks dangerously like the standard endless superpowered punch-up, is colourful, creative and character-driven. Guardians Vol. 2 can’t match the original, but it offers up enough fun, spectacle and character moments to make the revisit worth your time. SSP