Director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was an unexpected smash in 2014, a total curveball of a movie lobbed straight at the heart at the bloated superhero film genre. A light-hearted space opera starring a trigger-happy talking raccoon (Rocket Racoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a nearly monosyllabic tree-beast (Groot, voiced by the equally monosyllabic Vin Diesel), Guardians demonstrated that you could have a successful comic adaptation without the doom and gloom trappings of most films based on Marvel (and especially DC) properties. It also made a bonfire star out of Chris Pratt, whose portrayal of the dopey Star Lord / Peter Quill lends the film it’s sense of humanity.
Vol. 2 essentially begins where the first instalment left off — out ragtag group of miscreants — also featuring wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer and Zoe Saldana as the similarly green-skinned Gamora — are now working as a for-hire protection team when they are enlisted by a race of snooty gold-plated aliens to protect some valuable batteries (a MacGuffin if there ever was one). Things naturally don’t go as planned, and in the ensuing space chase they encounter a being named Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Quill’s long-lost father (Quill’s mother died of cancer when he was a child).
The film then spends most of its running time expanding on the mystery at the heart of Ego’s seemingly benign planet, while focusing on the literal family ties at the heart of the franchise. If that sounds less busy than the planet-hopping of the first film, it is — Vol. 2 is actually a smaller film in many ways, choosing to focus on the relationships of the main characters instead of pummelling the audience with an overtly-complicated plot, or setting up future films in the shared universe (that’s what the credits are for).
As is common with these films, the sequel expands the already swelling cast a bit — we meet Ego’s mysterious servant, the sheltered Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ayesha, the Golden High Priestess of the Sovereign (Elizabeth Debicki), and even Sly Stallone himself in a totally underused role as Reaver Stakar Ogord.
At times Vol. 2 hews a little too closely to the dynamic established in the first film — one can see only so many slow-motion space battles set to AM soft rock hits before it becomes a parody of itself, and the group’s insult repartee often ends up being needlessly sophomoric (this film doesn’t need multiple penis jokes). That said, the sheer fun of this group’s dynamic, coupled with the puppy-dog cuteness of the pint-sized Baby Groot more than make up for those minor misgivings.
This new Guardians may also be the best looking Marvel film to date — the entire film is a kaleidoscopic burst of colour, and actually looks like it would benefit from the 3D upgrade (I saw it in 2D). Gunn clearly had 3D in mind when composing many of the major set pieces scenes, from the trippy Ego sequences to the colourful fireworks send off at the end of the film.
While the entire cast does a dutiful job, it’s hard to compete with the sheer charisma of the great Kurt Russell, who eats up every minute of his screen time as Quill’s mysterious father from the stars. Russell’s only real competition comes from Michael Rooker’s surprisingly poignant portrayal of the blue-skinned Ravager Yondu, a character no one seemed to be clamouring to see more of in the sequel, but who nonetheless plays an integral part of the film.
The success of the Guardians movies is really no secret — they are basically two-hour music videos filled with one-liners and explosions (and with this version, an adorable CGI baby tree-thing). Vol. 2 hones in on what made the first instalment so fun, and while it doesn’t break any new ground, it further solidifies Guardians as the most enjoyable superhero franchise yet.