Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

 

Just for an experiment, it might be fun to see if James Gunn could recut Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with most of the special effects shots removed. From listening to his dialogue, one imagines a simple table read would be a lot of fun.

As it stands, the copious CGI shots are both the film’s strength and its most troubling liability. There isn’t much point in adapting Marvel Comics if there isn’t much eye candy in the story, but Gunn and the folks at the Disney owned Marvel studio have difficulty deciding when it’s time to stop making planets explode.

After a while, the blasts seem oddly anticlimactic. There isn’t much terror or exhilaration when pyrotechnics become routine.

That said, much of the appeal of the first movie is intact this time around because Gunn and his cohorts take it for granted that raccoons can master heavy weapons and that trees can walk. The foul mouthed rodent Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his arboreal sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel) are so vividly realized that we simply take for granted that they frequently outsmart and interact with the humans they encounter.

“…the copious CGI shots are both the film’s strength and its most troubling liability.”

If former Marvel editor Stan Lee (who, of course, stops in for another cameo) is remembered for anything, it’s for making comic book characters that behave with real world neuroses. Watching the team’s de facto leader Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) and the tactless Drax (Dave Bautista) bicker with Rocket is so funny that it almost doesn’t matter that the conversation involves a CGI critter.

It doesn’t hurt that the computer generated baby version of Groot is downright adorable. Because the special effects crew has given him so many facial expressions, it’s easy to get worked up about him even as the novelty of his smaller size has worn off.

Gunn’s script features lots of exchanges that are not only amusing but give the story a considerable amount of tension. Like Lee and Jack Kirby’s The Fantastic Four, these folks feud like real people, and their interpersonal tiffs make saving the galaxy a tad more difficult. It helps make the inevitable heroics seem less predestined.

This time Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the Guardians fight to save a planet from what looks like a giant marauding catfish. Hey, just about anything looks scary when it gets that big.

Despite their lofty name, the Guardians labor with very little respect for risking their lives to prevent the planet from becoming fish food. The inhabitants, who call themselves the Sovereigns, offer their thanks in manner that seems more irritatingly condescending than grateful.

Maybe that’s why Rocket doesn’t feel guilty for stealing their rare but expensive batteries. His greed not only gets the team stuck in a long aerospace dog fight with their former clients, but the Sovereigns also decide to hire a space pirate or Ravager named Yondu (Michael Rooker) to track them and retrieve the loot.

Ravagers tend to punish thieves themselves when they collect the loot. Yondu may have raised Peter during his adolescent years, but the bounty is high enough for him to overlook any sentimentality he feels for his surrogate son.

Actually, some of the biological relatives of the Guardians show up in unexpected ways. Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) is traveling as their prisoner. She’s as deadly a killer as her sibling and is eager to prove she might be even more so.

In the meantime, Peter discovers that he has a biological father after all. A cheery older man named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally confirms what Peter has always felt about himself. Despite his insistence on listening to oldies on a Walkman, which is out of date even on Earth, Peter has always assumed that he was destined for greatness despite living most of his life as a criminal and a goofball.

“…it’s refreshing to see a movie that invites viewers to soak in the details.”

It turns out that it’s normal to think a lot of yourself if you happen to the son of a celestial god. Ego has his own planet and has apparently scoured the universe looking for Peter to follow in his footsteps. With a little patience and training Peter could become the iconic figure he’s always imagined himself to be.

Ego also has a companion named Mantis (Canadian actress Pom Kelmentieff) who can read minds but has Drax’s underdeveloped social skills. Her smiles are more creepy than comforting, and she’s unsure of how much she wants to reveal about herself.

Gunn introduces several new characters like these, and for the most part they keep sequelitis from setting in. At times, it’s easy to wonder if we need cameos from Sylvester Stallone as a leader of the Ravagers or Seth Green as Howard the Duck, but it is fun to see what Easter eggs Gunn and his cohorts have buried throughout the film.  

Having seen more than my share of movies where the filmmakers seem to hoping that that audiences won’t notice when their craftsmanship is sloppy, it’s refreshing to see a movie that invites viewers to soak in the details.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Directed by James Gunn Written by James Gunn Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Pom Kelmentieff, Sylvester Stallone

8 out of 10

 

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