Every once in a while, I need a solid reminder as to why I’m willing to go to the theater while paying for overpriced popcorn and putting up with disrespectful patrons. I’ll be the first to admit that as of late, I’ve hit cinema fatigue, where I’d much rather watch films on my personal theater system in the comfort of my own home. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was just the shot in the arm I needed to bring me back to the fold, and is the perfect true kickoff to the summer season. It also succeeds in proving that the Guardians are not a flash-in-the-pan novelty that only work for a single film, but rather a solid contender for my favorite entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
We pick up with the Guardians in the middle of a mission. The Sovereign – an uptight race of golden dipped genetic perfection – have commissioned them to defend a platform and its expensive set of batteries from ill-intended creatures. In true Guardians fashion, the recently-formed family of mercenaries manages to simultaneously save the day and piss off those they are protecting. After fleeing impending doom, the team comes across a new character who is able to shed a bit of light on Peter’s heritage, a mystery that tantalized us at the end of the first film. From this point, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax are forced to once again save the universe, this time with some new and unlikely teammates.
Much like the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the opening sequence sets the tone for the rest of the film, and writer-director James Gunn manages to move these characters’ story forward with the momentum of a freight train, which is an impressive feat considering how insane this plot must look on paper. There’s rarely a dull moment in this 136-minute sci-fi romp, which is filled with even more action, humor, and heart than its predecessor. What’s particularly satisfying with this “Guardians” is its overall theme of family, a concept that has been beaten to death in other summer blockbusters. This “bunch of a-holes” comes across with such a believable force that elicits a far greater emotional response than the majority of summer action flicks I’ve ever seen.
I was particularly fond of the new characters, and how side characters from the first film were beautifully woven into the plot with perfect comic book grace. Not only do we have Mantis, an empath that provides hilarious comic relief with Drax, but we also see familiar faces teaming up with Peter and his team in a way that actually makes complete sense. It’s a true testament of Gunn’s ability to adapt a narrative to film in such a way that makes the characters’ evolving motives and interactions seem natural instead of forced.
Not only is the character growth stellar, but the humor somehow manages to eclipse the original “Guardians”, which I didn’t think would be possible. This flick is consistently funny from its hilarious opening sequence to its multiple after-credits stingers (stick around, there are 5 total). But where “Guardians Vol. 2” really shines is in its ability to move me in ways that I didn’t expect from a movie about a talking raccoon and baby tree. If the emotional gut punch during the finale doesn’t make you at least well up a little bit, your hardened soul is much stronger than mine.
The performances here are just as high quality as they were the last time around, if not even better. Pratt’s Peter Quill feels a bit more grown up and fleshed out and entertaining throughout. Despite being the star, there’s plenty of screen time for the rest of the crew as well. Rocket is just as sarcastic and angry as usual, and showcases moments of tenderness that were quite unexpected, but welcome. Zoe Saldana and David Bautista even show a bit more range with Gamora and Drax. The whole group feels much more tightly-knit in a way that complements the familial theme at play here.
The one who surprised me the most was Michael Rooker, who elevates from badass Ravager to moments of fatherly warmth that I feel I’ve never seen in him before. But the performance everyone was looking forward to the most was Kurt Russell, and while I don’t share the intense man-crush that my fearless leader at The Hollywood Outsider does, he was the perfect choice for Ego. He simply oozes with charisma in every scene and balances effectively against Pratt’s sarcastic nature turned longing for answers to his past. There simply isn’t a better choice in the cosmos for this role.
Visually speaking, “Guardians Vol. 2” is a complete treat for the eyes. There are moments of intense action where there’s so much happening on-screen, it’s almost difficult to keep up, but it never crosses that line of overdoing it. The digital characters somehow look crisper and more realistic than before, and I rarely kept from believing I was looking at actual characters instead of CG. On top of that, the soundtrack – which plays just as much a character for this film as the previous one – actually meshes with the plot even better this time around. It’s not quite as well-rounded and memorable, but it perfectly encapsulates the tone of the film right from the get-go and never lets up through the closing credits.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is one of those movies that reminds me why I love film so much. It covers all the bases of a summer blockbuster without presenting even a hint of over-the-top cheesiness. It’s multiple-arced storyline is told beautifully and cohesively with near perfect pacing, offering a full range of emotional responses from its audience. To me, this is the true kickoff to the summer season for 2017, and is one of the rare titles that will get me back to the theater for multiple viewings.
Do not miss this experience.
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell
Written by James Gunn
Directed by James Gunn