The A-hole Avengers are back in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with just as much swagger and ragtag chemistry as ever. It’s easy to forget that the first film was a risk for the unstoppable Marvel Cinematic Universe, a massive introduction to myriad characters, planets, teams and sci-fi concepts for a franchise wedded to the gradual reveal. Adding to the surprise was the hiring of veteran writer-director filmmaker James Gunn, known for his transgressive work (Slither, Super, Tromeo & Juliet). The gamble worked, and Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the strongest entries in the MCU to date, packed with laughs and thrills and characters worth spending more time with.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
PG-13, 136 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Vol. 2 finds the team uncontrollable as ever, yet the common goal of survival forces them to put aside their differences (as best they can) to defeat a threat facing the entire galaxy. We meet the Guardians as they battle to protect sacred and powerful batteries belonging to the Sovereign race from an interdimensional beast over the course of an opening credit sequence for the ages. If you recall, Groot ended the previous film as a tiny version of himself, affectionately known as Baby Groot. The team abandons its morale-raising sound system when the monster sneak attacks them, leaving it to Baby Groot to complete the setup, and he dances to charming easy listening, removing focus from the epic battle in the background. It’s the perfect intro, and an effective mirror of the first film’s credits.
When the battle ends, the Guardians must return the batteries to the Sovereign race, but Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) sticky fingers get them all in trouble. They are rescued by a mysterious figure known as Ego (Kurt Russell)—claiming to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father—and return to his planet to learn more about his origins, how he came to find Peter and the Guardians and what he intends to do now that they are his guests (or captives?).
Like the first film, Vol. 2 works best when it’s focused on the team dynamic as the anti-Avengers. They bicker, they rarely see eye-to-eye, yet it is always in their common interest to cooperate, a conflict that mirrors the better-known characters of the Universe. The cast is as great as ever, with new characters such as Mantis (Pom Klementieff) fitting right in. The dialogue is funny and smart, and it packs a surprisingly effective emotional punch in the end.
Despite its strengths, there are notable lags that threaten to pull the movie apart at times. After the initial reveal of Ego’s origins, the time spent on his planet is repetitive and not terribly entertaining or interesting. While that is happening, the sibling rivalry between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) is a nonstarter taking up a lot of screen time to go nowhere in particular. Though it does reflect somewhat the theme that family is about more than blood relation—Quill’s mixed relationships with biological parent Ego and father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker), Rocket’s raising of Baby Groot—for the entire middle of the film, several lead characters are doing little more than eating up screen time. If you liked the detour in Avengers: Age of Ultron focusing on Hawkeye’s family, you might enjoy the second act of Guardians Vol. 2, but they are similarly flawed.
Thankfully, the energy picks up for the finale and the characters get back to doing what they do best, and this might be the first MCU movie worth shedding a tear for. Even at its worst, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is totally watchable for fans, rabid and casual alike.
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Beauty and the Beast, Born in China, The Circle, Colossal, The Fate of the Furious, Get Out, Gifted, Going in Style, Sleight
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Beauty and the Beast, The Boss Baby, The Circle, Colossal, The Fate of the Furious, The Lost City of Z, Their Finest