Rapid fire jokes and an energetic cast make up for periods of meandering plot and flat dialogue
Film Score: 7.5/10
The first Guardians of the Galaxy ended with Peter Quill, aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), asking his cohorts, “What should we do next? Something good? Something bad? A bit of both?” They settle on the latter, and that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 delivers: a bit of both good and bad. James Gunn returns to write and direct the second installment of the franchise and though he doesn’t hit every mark, he and his team hit enough of them to make the film a success.
When we rejoin Quill and Co., they’ve channeled their galaxy-saving experience into becoming guns for hire. Their skills on put to the test against a tentacled, sharp-toothed monster while the opening credits roll and “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra plays in the background. They receive the fugitive Nebula (Karen Gillan) as payment from their employer, a race of conceited, golden humanoids called the Sovereign. The Guardians leave with the crazy daughter of Thanos in tow, but not before Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals from the golden gits. They only escape the Sovereign’s wrath with help from a mysterious man who reveals himself to be Ego (Kurt Russell), Quill’s long-lost father. Of course, no one truly trusts this man, but as Gamora (Zoe Saldana) so aptly puts it, “If he turns out to be evil we’ll just kill him.” So Quill, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista) go with Ego and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to learn more about Quill’s past. Rocket, Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), stay behind, only to get captured by Quill’s old Ravager crew and wrapped up in a mutiny against Yondu that’s been brewing ever since he agreed to first transport cargo for Ego.
The story all boils down to family and how our relationships shape who we are, so much more than genetics ever could. The plot wants Quill and Ego to be the central relationship, but it’s actually the weakest of GOTG Vol. 2. At one point the two men play catch, and though I realize there’s meant to be a level of cheesiness, the scene steps into the realm of plain awkward. Pratt tries to infuse the father-son moments with his usual charisma, but because the camera is forced to bounce between the split groups of characters, he never has time to really inhabit the scene. The same could be said of Russell, whose lackluster Ego seems to be more a fault of the writing than of the actor. He’s saddled with all the exposition, his lines accompanied by porcelain shapeshifting statues whose sole purpose is to give the audience something to look at while he talks.
Yes, the plot is driven by the bond between Quill and Ego, but it’s the secondary characters who shine in this sequel, and the energy they put into their roles helps elevate the other performances when they falter. Bautista and Klementieff, especially, embrace their characters’ social miscues in order to deliver standout performances and some of the best interactions of the entire film. Michael Rooker gets plenty of material to expand his turn as Yondu Undonta, the Ravager that raised Quill, and he doesn’t waste it, running the gamut of emotion from smug to remorseful with ease. He also finds a kindred soul in Rocket, revealing more about the both of them and the poor decisions they’ve made. Nebula, who was my least favorite character in the original GOTG, is finally given space to properly channel her emotional intensity and psychotic rage and it works to much better effect. But if any character deserves a commendation, it’s Baby Groot. I don’t care if it was a marketing ploy or not, but he stole the show. Every. Single. Time. I’m sure some adults will think his presence overdone, but he’s “too adorable to kill.” I found Groot to be just pure, innocent fun.
Which is ultimately what makes GOTG Vol 2. a success. Nothing is taken too seriously and it’s all done in good fun. The result is a creative space ideal for instances of brilliance. Nothing quite on the level of Quill’s dance-off from the first film, but close. Rocket’s contraptions are a joy to watch in action, as is a moment of hand-to-hand combat where he proves he’s more than his toys. Everything about Yondu and Rocket’s escape from the mutinous Ravagers is fantastic, as is the song choice of “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay & the Americans. But above all, what continues to stick with me is the moment Quill is handed a Zune.
I remember the first mp3 player I ever bought was a Zune. The product turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt by Microsoft to compete against the Apple iPod, but I loved it all the same. So seeing Quill’s eyes light up at the publically ridiculed product, I about lost my mind. It was perfect. Sure, it may have been a tongue-in-cheek decision by writer/director James Gunn; he’s always been a bit unorthodox with his decisions for the GOTG. But it represents everything I love about the franchise: wholesome, unadulterated fun, despite its flaws.