Back in August of 2014, nobody saw James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy coming. It burst onto the scene, made a ton of money, stole hearts, and became everyone's favorite Marvel flick. More so that, it even enticed the average moviegoer to have its charms wash over them. Chris Pratt emerged as an action hero, Gunn hit the big time as a legit filmmaker with whimsical nuance, and more Guardians was demanded.
Well, here it is. Is it as good as the original? Better, perhaps? While the soundtrack is once again amazing, let me explain my feelings on the second installment in Star-Lord's journey.
The second order has arrived just under three years later, and this batch contains a lot more heart, emotional moments, and a running time that challenges the soul. When you try to add more emotional resonance to the proceedings, you awaken the possibility of weighing down what was once a lot of fun and had an easy going cool. Sometimes, that can throw off the feel of the movie and take it in another direction. With GOTG 2, the result is a heartfelt-even soulful-ride back through the hero universe with mixed returns that make it not as polished as the original and more bloated than desired.
When we catch up with Peter Quill's (Pratt) gang of anti-heroes, life and business is good. Baby Groot (once again voiced by Vin Diesel) provides the comic relief while Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Zoe Saldana's Gamora fight the battles and collect bounties. When they do a job for the mysterious yet powerful Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) that nets Gamora the bounty on her broken bad sister Nebula (Karan Gillen) and Rocket gets a little greedy in the end, the crew is put up against the test again and before you know it, there's a universe that has to be saved.
Oh, did I mention that there's a guy named Ego (played very well by Kurt Russell) who claims to be Quill's father and wants to help him, but want something in return? Also, Sylvester Stallone shows up in premium 1980's throwback fashion as Stakar, a master thief who may want to get back in the game. Michael Rooker's wonderful anti-hero/Quill father figure Yondu comes back to steal scenes while helping the crew.
As was the case with the first film, the plot is merely an excuse for galactic hijinks with the crew getting into amazingly impossible situations and Gunn stuffing as many 1980's pop culture references as possible, with Heather Locklear and David Hasselhoff getting special mentions amid the action. Pratt is the comic anchor who can easily turn on the bravado, while Cooper creates more lunatic humor with his quip machine raccoon.
You may get a little tired of hearing Bautista's belly laugh as the dangerous yet warm-hearted Drax, but the big fella is still fun to watch go nuts. Saldana is equally sultry and strong, with a budding romance with Quill never getting taking much away from the required thrills.
The biggest problem with this film is a stuffed feeling that only gets worse as the plot and few subplots are wrapped up in the final third of the film. Let me point out that it never gets anywhere near Spider Man 3 bad, but there was a slight problem in the editing room, because the extra minutes take away from the polished feel of the first film.
There's a heavy dose of heart in this film, and it works in some areas and doesn't in others. The more subtle touches ring the truest and work the best. For example, there's something that never feels quite right or settled with Russell and Pratt in the film, and at times the cute tongue in cheek factor is pushed too far. On the other hand, the scenes with Pratt and Rooker are just so well done, and I was begging for more of them. Saldana and Gillan's feuding sisters gets an extra layer of sentiment here, and it works well. St. Louis native (like his brother James) Sean Gunn makes good use of extra screen time as Yondu's loyal henchman, Kraglin.
The special helping of heart makes this fresh chapter different yet more slow moving, which was its greatest strength in 2014. In a way, Guardians are the black sheep of the Marvel universe who shows up to the party to lighten the heavy mood. After the powerful Civil War, relaxing with these people is a nice return, but I feel like it could have been better.
The less than assured feeling doesn't mean there weren't great moments in the film, because there were a few. A dance number with Baby Groot kicks off the film's credits in high flying wizardry fashion. There's a running gag with a villain called Taserface (Chris Sullivan) that gets funny real quick. A scene between Quill and Yondu towards the end of the film should make you cry. The "don't touch this button" scene with Groot is as good as the trailer promised.
If there is a most valuable player in this film, it's easily Rooker's Yondu. While he is a supporting character, he was a guy who didn't drift far from the mind after the first film ended. A thief with a heart of gold but a penchant for madness, you never really know which side Rooker's blue-faced renegade will take, but wherever you go, the goodness isn't far behind. It's a kick in the head to see the 62 year old Rooker (who I first wanted to hate in the 80's film, Days of Thunder) having such a fun time with role like this.
Gunn's signature touch is allowing 80's film-addicts like myself to relive my glory when I watch these films. Seeing Stallone and Russell-Tango and Cash-in the same movie with Rooker and new age tough guys like Bautista is a joy to behold, so while it's not as good as the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 never comes close to stealing your money.
If I sound conflicted as I write this review, that's because films like this one can make you scramble your brain in trying to figure out a few things:
*Is this a good film?
*Is it as good as the first film
*What went wrong?
With most films, the answers are easy. With GOTG 2, the words were anything but easy to come by. To be fair, when I watched the first film, my initial viewing didn't leave me loving it. After a few rounds, I saw the lovable factor and couldn't get enough. Maybe that will be the case with Volume 2. Maybe, it didn't execute as well.
I can tell you it's worth paying the tab for, especially if you fell for the first one. There are also four post credits sequences, so enjoy those.
I like what James Gunn is doing in the Marvel universe. He's the cool uncle who likes to shake up the cookie jar a little more than most directors in this mega universe, and while his latest didn't hit the mark directly, he still made me anxious for what Volume 3 will bring.