4 out of 5 stars
Doubling down on the improbable absurdity of the first film, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” delivers the goods in spades.
If you’re a fan of funny sci-fi spectacle, enjoyed the first film or are invested in the never-ending saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the film for you. It’s goofy as hell with a planet-sized heart, but most importantly, it’s fun.
The shared universe of the MCU remains a strong concept, but one with diminishing returns. After the high that was 2012s “The Avengers,” the quality of subsequent Marvel Studios efforts has been inconsistent, to say the least. For every “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” there is a “Thor: The Dark World.” The novelty of it all has begun to wear thin, albeit with one shining exception: “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The first film revitalized the MCU and made audiences remember what was possible when left to the creative, weird devices of passionate filmmakers. With “Vol. 2,” director James Gunn and co have dialed everything up significantly. The ‘more is better’ aesthetic rarely works, but when your property is committed to being weird enough to star a talking raccoon and baby tree-person that can only say three words, it can, and does, work.
This time around, the story focuses more on the emotional relationships between characters, with the plot largely centered around Peter Quill’s parentage and place in the universe. Even during some of the most emotionally poignant moments, the film fulfills its blockbuster purpose, avoiding heavy-handedness through an onslaught of jokes and visual gags. The action is huge, loud and colorful. There are no revelatory, Oscar-worthy performances here, but this is one of the most fun experiences I’ve had at the movies, outside of “Star Wars,” in a very long time.
It’s gorgeous to look at and consistently hilarious, preventing it from ever being boring
While the heart of the film lies with Quill’s relationship to his father (sorry, no spoilers), the scene stealers are easily Drax and baby Groot, who have some of the most absurd and hilarious gags in recent memory. Another highlight is Yondu, the ‘frienemy’ and estranged father-figure to Quill from the first film. His role is significantly amplified this time around and he becomes the focus of an emotional arc shared with Rocket after the group is divided at the end of the first act. Gamora and Nebula get some sister time, and Drax makes a new friend in Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an antennaed humanoid empath.
Overall, the second act drags on a bit slower than the first and third, but it’s gorgeous to look at and consistently hilarious, preventing it from ever being boring.
Musically, it’s not as memorable as the first film, though the second mixtape features some choice classics, including what is undoubtedly the best use of “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac in cinema history. Towards the end of the film, there’s also a hilarious bit, at least to anyone around during the advent of the iPod, promising an even bigger library for “Vol. 3.”
While the film doesn’t expand too much into MCU shared-universe territory, there are a few nods that suggest the Guardians will inevitably find themselves embroiled in the coming Thanos-as-ultimate-villain narrative of the MCU, which promises to reach its conclusion in the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War” coming in 2018 and 2019.
Until then, I eagerly await “Vol. 3” and its promise to expand upon its predecessors one antiquated piece of Earth technology at a time.