Familiarity and a bit of sequelitis creeps in at times, but overall Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is as entertaining, goofy, and irreverent as its blockbuster predecessor. There’s a lot of pressure to deliver on this one, as the first movie was an under-the-radar production unburdened by much in the way of expectation. It was a wild experiment that paid off big-time.ú
The follow-up finds our band of scoundrels walking a fine line between do-gooders and scoundrels. Star-Lord/peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still nursing a crush on teammate/alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana); dour warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) has lightened up considerably since we last saw him, though his newfound sense of humor is often ill-timed; techie space raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is still a thieving smart-ass; and sentient plant Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), still regrowing after his near-demise in Vol. 1, is the equivalent of an action figure-sized toddler.
The team’s personality flaws put them on the run from gold-skinned, perfection-seeking aliens called The Sovereign, led by the haughty priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). A chance encounter re-unites Peter with his long-lost father, a cosmic being known as Ego (Kurt Russell), while his disgraced space pirate surrogate father Yondu (Michael Rooker) faces a mutiny by his crew of Ravagers. Meanwhile, Gamora and her estranged and likely psychotic cyborg foster sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) try to figure if they can reconcile without killing each other.
Family issues abound, and Vol. 2 wears it’s inspirations on its sleeve, specifically The Empire Strikes Back and the better parts of Return of the Jedi. The plot proves to be minimal, but this is mostly offset by the unexpected degree of characterization that writer-director James Gunn invests into his ragtag loser-heroes. There is a lot of emotional gut punching to be had between space battles and dick jokes, and Gunn knows how to sneak up on the viewer with it.
Everyone gets at least one or two great moments — an impressive feat given the number of major and supporting characters. Russell proves to be a shrewd choice for Ego, and gives the movie some nice dramatic heft. Rooker gets some meaty sequences, and Saldana and Gillan play off one another wonderfully with their sibling rivalry from hell. Rocket may go down as Cooper’s most iconic role. In the end, it’s Bautista’s surprise comic talents that steal the show, especially when opposite Pom Klementieff’s childlike alien empath, Mantis.
Pop music is just as much a part of the sequel as it was the prior movie, if not more so. Gunn comes close to overdoing its presence, but the song selections are superb and work in some surprising ways. ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” — famously cut from Vol. 1 — becomes an unexpectedly effective fight song, and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” makes for a rousing moment in the movies climactic showdown.
Gunn lays it on thick whenever the action kicks in, but mostly manages to top himself in terms of creativity and quality. He also maintains the series’ vibrant candy-colored visual design, which, along with that of Doctor Strange, has been a breath of fresh air in regards to the often muddy visual palette of Marvel’s house style. Hopefully this marks a shift for the studio.
Factor in a ton of easter eggs, ’80s pop culture references, and five credit scenes (you read that correctly) into the above and the movie comes perilously close to being overstuffed. Still, Vol. 2 is a satisfying sequel that delivers what it promises. It’s a good thing our gang of star-blazing jackasses will appear in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, because it will be hard to wait for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.