“I’m gonna make some WEIRD shit!” That exclamation, blurted out, eyes agog and mind visibly racing, by Chris Pratt’s ever-ironic Star-Lord shortly after reuniting with his God-like father Ego (Kurt Russell), perfectly sums up the insanely energetic mindset of writer/director James Gunn on his return visit to the Marvel cosmic universe. Following up his surprise smash 2014 origin story, the helmer maniacally kicks into hyperdrive with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, doubling down on the irreverent hilarity of the first entry and ratcheting up the comic-book crazy to bracingly madcap effect. Remembering when we questioned whether Thor was a step too far for mainstream audiences to accept? Ah, how gently naive we all were.
Whereas the first time around Gunn was bolted down by the now boilerplate Marvel plot structure, complete with a magical item hunt motivated by a vaguely defined villain in Lee Pace’s Ronan, Vol. 2 sees him cutting loose and embracing the groove of his off-beat creation. And, unlike disappointing studio sequels such as Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2, the pressure to re-perform doesn’t hobble the movie, it liberates it. Akin to how Captain America: The Winter Soldier evolved from First Avenger, this return of the titular space-faring bad-asses deepens our understanding of the characters and their world, while opening genuinely exciting avenues for future excursions. It leaves one dizzy and salivating for Vol. 3, not brainstorming course corrections.
During a frenetic escape through an asteroid field, the team encounters Quill’s mysterious biological dad, a celestial being who is in actuality a living, thriving planet. This revelation leads Star-Lord on a quest to learn more about his heritage and his long-lost pa's origins and powers, while Drax bonds with Ego’s gentle companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a socially stunted empath with closely kept secrets. In the meantime, Rocket and Groot, with an indignant Nebula in tow, are reunited with disgraced Ravager captain Yondu (Michael Rooker), and get swept up in violent space pirate drama. Ultimately, through shocks and surprises best left unmentioned here, these two engrossing tales intersect in a spectacular climax that delivers a rewarding mega-bomb of character growth and unexpectedly poignant emotional resolution.
Civil War fame, he smartly devises clever ways to undercut the more bombastic moments with unexpected reveals or running jokes.
As opposed to Vol. 1, the momentum here feels noticeably far more propelled by the characters than the plot. Frankly, this may just be Marvel’s answer to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo; a shaggy hangout film that sets up its story and then sits back and lets its heroes discover their own way to the conclusion, with plenty of amusing diversions along the way. For some this may prove frustrating. But Gunn and his actors understand these heroes and villains so deeply the pace never flags, and we gain priceless insight into their relationships and specific world views. Although the Fast and Furious series superficially crows on and on about the meaning of family, Guardians Vol. 2 is actively intrigued in exploring it, from the off-kilter dynamics between Quill and his dueling dysfunctional father figures Ego and Yondu to the resentful competitiveness dividing Gamora and Nebula. Every major figure has an interesting arc, from MVPs Rocket, baby Groot and Drax (Dave Bautista continues to be a surprising comedy weapon) all the way down to engaging second stringers Ayesha, Mantis and Sean Gunn’s antsy Ravager sidekick Kraglin.
4 out of 5