Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Saving the Galaxy One Classic Tune at a Time

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was released in 2014, it was a huge gamble.  Sure, it was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which had been lighting up the box office ever since Iron Man kicked things off in 2008, but none of the Avengers would appear in the movie.  The characters picked to be featured in the movie were so obscure that few people outside of comics aficionados probably realize that the characters who make up the Guardians in the movie—Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot—are not even the original Guardians in the comics.  They are obscure characters from an already obscure comic.  And yet, the movie became a monstrous hit thanks to its charming lead characters, brilliant comedic flourishes, and glorious soundtrack.  Fortunately, all of those elements are back in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, another space adventure that is just plain fun.

The new movie picks up just a few months after the last one left off.  The Guardians are recognized across the universe as having saved the galaxy and this has brought them to the attention of the mysterious Ego.  Ego is especially fascinated with Peter Quill after having learned that he held an infinity stone without dying.  He tracks down Star-Lord and the gang and reveals himself as Peter’s father.

Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2At first hesitant, Peter soon travels to his father’s home planet with Gamora and Drax in tow.  There, Ego reveals himself as a celestial being who previously visited Earth in human form where he fell in love with Peter’s mother.  When Peter’s mother died, Ego hired Yondu to bring young Peter to him, but Yondu instead decided to keep the young boy who was small enough to fit into narrow spaces making for easy thievery.  Ego tells Peter that he has been searching for him this entire time and now hopes Peter will let him be the father he has always wanted to be.  Peter is hooked easily, but Gamora has her doubts about Ego’s true intentions.

Writer/director James Gunn has a fairly solid grasp on what audiences are looking for from this franchise and that is very clear from the opening credits sequence.  The Guardians are locked in a battle with a giant, ugly beast; Gunn knows that we have seen dozens of heroes battle dozens of beasts in other movies, but there is one thing his movie has going for it that others don’t: Baby Groot.  The miniature Groot dances his way into our hearts while the rest of the Guardians fight the beastie in the background and the movie is off and running.

This starts a trend in the movie of action scenes as music videos.  Whether it is Rocket defending their ship from ravagers or Yondu using his arrow to end a mutiny, the action scenes are set to the pop hits included on the ‘Awesome Mixtape #2’ that Peter’s mother gifted him in her dying moments.  The use of the music in the action scenes helps this movie maintain a level of fun that gets lost in other modern comic movies that often take their action scenes a little too seriously.  The music is so completely a part of the actions scenes that it would not be too much of a stretch to call this movie a musical.

The charming cast, a major factor in the success of the first film, is all back and their chemistry has not missed a beat.  Chris Pratt’s movie star charisma is impossible to deny and Zoe Saldana continues to prove why she deserves to keep showing up in all these major action franchises.  Perhaps most surprisingly, Dave Bautista continues to demonstrate his impeccable comic timing as Drax.  Karen Gillan has a bigger role this time around as Gamora’s sister Nebula, as does Michael Rooker in his role as Yondu that continues to grow in importance as the movie goes along.

Kurt Russell is the biggest addition to the cast and the role of Ego is perfect for him.  Russell brings the perfect mixture of gravitas and charm to pull off the difficult characterization of a celestial being in human form.  It is also noteworthy that modern special effects artists have seemingly perfected the art of de-aging actors to play younger versions of themselves, such as when the young Kurt Russell charms Peter’s mom in 1980 Missouri.

The real star of the movie, though, is Baby Groot.  This less-than-a-foot-tall version of the lumbering tree creature from the first film is perhaps the most adorable character ever brought to screen.  He’ll have you wanting to reach into the 3D screen so that you can pick him up and take him home with you.  It is surprising to learn that even at this height and with a much more high-pitched “I am Groot” delivery, Groot is still voiced by Vin Diesel, who also did the motion-capture for the character this time around.  The behind-the-scenes feature on the eventual Blu-ray should be priceless.

As entertaining as the movie is, it does have its share of shortcomings.  The movie never seems to settle into a rhythmic pace like the original did, hampered mostly by the fact that so much of it takes place on the same planet.  Also, the interactions with a race of self-professed sovereigns and their drone pilots does not work as well as it should and the movie hits the drones-are-video-games statement to such an extent that it comes off as the only bit in the movie that might be too goofy even for this franchise.

It is easy to overlook a movie’s shortcomings, though, when it is this darn entertaining.  James Gunn and company have succeeded again in proving that comic book movie heroes can still save the day and entertain us without taking things so seriously.  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is also a visually stunning film with 3D images so glorious, I found myself wondering how it could possibly be seen on anything but an IMAX screen, making this movie a joy for both the eyes and the ears.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is rated PG-13 for “sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.”  There were some references to certain body parts that felt like the movie’s humor was aiming a little too lowbrow and there are lots of violent deaths in the movie, but the blood is kept to a minimum.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.