By Marc S. Sanders
James Gunn continues his Looney Tunes odyssey helming Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. The silliness is grander, the story is weirder and the characters are now comfortably fleshed out.
Vol 2 is probably not better than the first installment. However, it is more inventive as Gunn takes his film along the hanging thread left over from before. Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his father at last in the persona of Kurt Russell who goes by the moniker Ego. This is all enthralling to Quill, though his love interest, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) sees beyond the facade.
Ego has invited them to his planet that he created. It pops with colors, serenity and cheer. This plays for a good story; maybe as a better and more developed Star Trek episode.
What differentiates this film from other Marvel films comes out in the third act. This does not consist of just space battles, laser swords and shootouts. The end is something else, something new, entirely. Thus, you are given the film’s greatest strength. I found it to be very imaginative.
Gunn however falls a little bit into his own trap along the way. There are too many relationships and characters that work as filler for side stories. Gamora vs her bitter sister Nebula. Drax (Dave Bautista) with a new, weird antenna on the head character named Mantis and Rocket Racoon and his big mouth with Yondu (Michael Rooker, in a bigger more significant role this time). Oh yeah! There’s also Yondu vs Sylvester Stallone (huh? why? how?) and Yondu vs his mutinous army, The Ravagers. It’s all a little too much for an already busy looking film.
I found it funny that The Ravagers reminded me of the motorcycle gang, The Black Widows, from Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way… bare knuckle comedies. Those guys were much funnier than these Ravagers. Gunn overstays their welcome as they randomly cackle and heckle poor Baby Groot, the toddler tree thing. That gets old quickly.
Gunn approaches a special kind of humor here. Repeatedly, because these are outer space characters, it’s apparently funny to lend them explaining the punchline of a gag. So if Drax realizes that Peter has the hots for Gamora, he’ll belly laugh and explain literally how Peter feels and do it bigger and louder. Variations of that gag occur quite often among most of the characters. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it gets old.
GOTG Vol 2 is a fun watch. I don’t foresee this installment carrying the legendary status the first one did or even standing out among the best of the Marvel series, but I will give props to the outcome of what Ego truly is and what his intent depends on. (I won’t spoil that here, of course.)
The cast is great. Saldana is one of the stronger female characters in the MCU. She captures a background to Gamora that is blatantly absent from other Marvel ladies. Bautista has become a great character actor as well. He’s a smart guy with good timing. With his extensive child and adult film resume Kurt Russell is perfectly cast as Pratt’s father. Their personalities lend to some good chemistry.
James Gunn owns the Guardians films. No one else can capture his blend of humor and pop culture salutes. Yet, he overreaches a little trying to incorporate so much story and so many gags into one film. His vision is well defined, though.
Plus, Gunn stages another dance scene for Pratt and Saldana, and it’s great. As I noted in my Vol 1 review, that’s how you get to a viewer’s heart. Everyone loves to dance.
As well, Gunn accompanied his sequences with some tunes both fresh and familiar from Fleetwood Mac, Electric Light Orchestra and George Harrison to name a few.
James Gunn was always going to make sure never to take his films seriously. So, when you see a baby tree groove along while trying to detonate a bomb, I defy you to be so serious as well.