May 05, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Is this the button I push for a Coke?

Grade: B –
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 16 min.

Whereas Guardians of the Galaxy carries the spirit of a Saturday afternoon serial, Vol. 2 is Greek mythology set to celluloid. Gods mate with mortals, celestial tribes wage war, daddy issues envelope demigods, and family squabbles tilt the balance of power. All of it’s set to the strained strains of 1980s pop nostalgia and 1970s minor rock, the latter part dubbed onto an audiocassette labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 2.” The film, like any second mixtape, is a hit-and-miss compilation lacking the choice cuts and cohesion of its forerunner.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) remain locked in a pitched sibling rivalry. Drax (Dave Bautista) manically clings to his new surrogate family. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the genetically altered racoon, finds a kindred spirit in fellow tortured soul Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), all while playing dad to Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), this film’s answer to the worry that the only thing missing from the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a Minion.

Then there’s Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), whose swashbuckling for hire as part of the Guardians quintet—plus Rocket’s coincident thievery—run afoul of a perfected, prickly, gold-plated race called the Sovereign and their lithe leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Guardians’ escape intersects Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient god-like being who travels the universe masquerading as a human but subsists in planetary form. He also claims to be Quill’s father, a role Russell channels like the celestial embodiment of Stuntman Mike from Death Proof.

And on its goes, as everything is at stake even as nothing really seems to be.  No matter how dire the situation, there’s always a Cheers, Mary Poppins, or one of a half-dozen David Hasselhoff references ready to lighten the mood. There’s no problem that a slo-mo montage and needle drop of Electric Light Orchestra, Cat Stevens, or George Harrison can’t solve. A deity smitten by the lyrics to “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” also wants to destroy the universe? Uh OK.

A lost sense of discovery was always going to hamstring Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when compared to its predecessor. The main characters aren’t new, and the new characters—like Ego’s empathic girl Friday, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Sylvester Stallone’s blink-and-miss appearance as Ravager leader Stakar Ogord—aren’t well-developed. Moreover, the sweet silliness of the original is replaced by pliable angst and an orgy of CGI. Director James Gunn says he drew inspiration from The Empire Strikes Back. The actual product is more in line with such saggy Marvel sequels as Avenger: Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2. The first Guardians of the Galaxy was a breezy, easy ride. This time, the journey feels familiar but the flop sweat is flowing.

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