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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

When the first GotG was released in 2014, few expected the rabid reception it would receive.  And it wasn't just the August release date when competition was nil.  Its ragtag team of heroes, including Groot, a laconic, ambulatory tree; Rocket, a violent, larcenous raccoon; Drax, a clueless man-mountain; Gamora, a beautiful green badass; and Peter Quill, a likable lug who calls himself "Star-Lord" seemed like a recipe for a crapfest (see Suicide Squad, 2016).  But thanks to eye-popping visual effects; James Gunn's fun, exciting script adaptation, and his direction that coaxed enthusiastic performances from its stars, Volume 1 turned out to be one of the biggest hits of the year.  The bar for "Vol. 2" was set high--too high?  That depends on your perspective.

We open with a visually-enhanced youthful Kurt Russell tools across the 1980 Missouri heartland with free spirit Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) singing "Brandy" at the top of their lungs. She knows he is an alien, but they are in love.  Cut to 34 years later, and the Guardians have made a name for themselves.  They've been hired by the Sovereign, a race of golden perfect beings led by the regal Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to prevent a gigantic tentacled creature from raiding their hoard of super batteries.  While Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Drax (Dave Bautista) squabble and face the leviathan in the background, toddler Groot (voice-altered Vin Diesel) dances to the music in the foreground, yanking us back to the bold iconoclastic vision of the first film.  The creature vanquished, the Guardians appear before Ayesha, and in true character, they manage to both charm and alienate before they depart with their booty, both earned--Gamora's sister and avowed enemy Nebula (Karen Gillan) is turned over to them to be sent to prison--and unearned--Rocket steals the very batteries they were hired to protect.  Soon, the Sovereign fleet of remote-control pursuit craft is on their tail.  Just when the odds seem overwhelming, the fleet disappears in a flash, dispatched by a strange egg-shaped craft.

Meanwhile, on a rest and relaxation planet, we meet up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his even more ragtag band of Ravagers, enjoying themselves until they run into the Capo di Tutti Ravagers, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).  He accuses Yondu of breaking the Ravager code by selling children, an act that banishes him from the greater group.  There is more to the story, but Stakar won't listen.  Yondu is devastated.  He soon becomes heartened, though, when Ayesha hires his band to apprehend the Guardians and return them and the stolen batteries to the Sovereign for capital punishment.  Aware that his men resent the soft spot he has for Peter, and that the bounty has put giant "unit" signs in their eyes, Yondu accepts the job.

Back to the Guardians.  They land on a planet to catch their breath, followed soon after by the egg ship.  Out of it emerges a familiar, though older, Kurt Russell who identifies himself as Ego, along with his empath servant, the socially stunted Mantis (Pom Klementieff).  Ego quickly reveals the secret to Peter's lineage and invites him, along with Gamora and Drax, to his planet, where Drax and Mantis strike up a friendship that is every bit as strange as you'd expect, and Gamora senses that even stranger things are afoot.  Rocket has been left behind to repair their wrecked ship and guard the shackled Nebula (Gamora gives Rocket permission to kill her if she tries to escape).  As expected, Yondu and his Ravagers soon complicate matters for Rocket.

If you think a lot is going on and much of it is disjointed, you aren't alone, the plot is minimal.  Thankfully, GotG2 does continue its predecessor's example in following its own path, not taking itself too seriously, and emphasizing fun.  Whereas the original was about building a team, Volume 2 is about building a family, with all of its fits and starts, and all of the interpersonal relationships that add complexity. There are the carryovers: the "unspoken thing" between Peter and Gamora; the lethal sibling rivalry between Gamora and Nebula; Rocket's self-loathing hostility toward everyone; the resentful bond between Peter and Yondu.  And there are new developments: the impossibly literal Drax and the sweet but clueless Mantis bring one of one of the most bizarre relationships in modern screendom; Baby Groot is now the innocent baby, who adds cuteness but needs care; a certain Guardian and a Ravager finding themselves as unexpected kindred spirits.  And, of course, the nascent father-son relationship of Ego and Peter is central to the story.  Or is it?  This is, after all, GotG, so within all of those relationships are surprising twists and touching moments, none so surprisingly touching as the one at the end of the film.

This is a popcorn flick, kids.  With a run-time of 2:15, it might be a tad long, but we won't complain, as some of that time was used to provide cameos for Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh, Jeff Goldblum, Seth Green (reprising Howard the Duck), some guy named Zardu Hasslefrau, and Stan Lee, naturally.  And it takes a few gags and beats them to zaniness (just this side of a dead horse).  Does GotG2 amount to great art?  No.  And, as is the case with many sequels, the element of original surprise is gone.  But in its place, we know the Guardians better, and like a good family they are endearing.

8.5 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
7.0 out of 10 on an Awards Scale (possibly in technical areas)


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