Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Review by Paul Preston
I know finding balance with The Force is great and all, but as far as space adventures go, I’m enjoying Marvel’s balance of action and humor with the Guardians of the Galaxy movies much more. Vol. 2 of the oddest space team in the universe continues Marvel’s remarkable winning streak.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the further escapades of Star-Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They’ve saved the galaxy in the first film and now are for-hire intergalactic swashbucklers.
The film begins on the home planet of The Sovereign, an alien race who want the Guardians to protect their batteries (a powerful energy source) from interdimensional invaders. Sounds like a lot, but what it basically means is that a giant beast comes out of the sky and there’s a huge fight. But right out of the gate, writer/director James Gunn sets up the humor/action balance you can expect for the next 136 minutes. Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket and Drax take on the overpowering beast while Baby Groot (re-growing after his “death” in the first movie) dances to one of Peter’s mixtapes. The action, which could be any other movie’s grand finale, is in support of having fun, which Groot is doing front and center. That’s where these movies live.
Eventually, the plot moves on to exploring Peter’s past, and the father he never knew, who shows up in the form of Ego, played by Kurt Russell. I won’t tell you what the trailers kept secret about Ego, but he’s a pretty complex character that’s more than human, and he has a plan. This complicates Peter’s plan to one day befriend and love his father as much as he loved his mother. Now they might have to be at odds. And there’s the rest of the movie.
There’s some plot bloating here, the theme of superheroes and their parental relations made for the finale of the worst movie of last year, but that would be the DC Universe’s thoughtless handling of Batman v. Superman. Marvel handled it much more shrewdly in Captain America: Civil War, but still, it’s a little familiar for the genre. Also, The Sovereign stay hot on the Guardians’ heels throughout the film because Rocket steals some of their precious batteries. I suppose it’s true to Rocket’s trash-talking nature, but their own actions got the Guardians in trouble.
However, the Marvel team, no matter what the project, just always seem to keep the story enough in check. If anything, a movie with the breadth of characters, locations and story of Civil War would seem like the one to have gone off the rails in lesser hands. That movie won with a successful division of hero screen time. As I mentioned, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wins with a sucessful division of action and humor. Towards the end of the film, two beings with god-like powers have a fist-fight. This is just the type of over-stuffed scenario that could sink a superhero movie in a glut of special effects and over-weighty dialogue (see the end of Man of Steel, for example). Guardians deflates the situation with two pop culture reference callbacks that bring the house down.
So, what a surprise that this half-goofy franchise is the one where real consequences are handed out at the end. Real death and real villainy. It was actually a welcome shot of depth to an otherwise wise-cracking story.
Not that it’s a contest, but if there’s a winner in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, it’s Drax. When Dave Bautista was a WWE wrestler, he mostly played a strong, silent type of musclehead who’d come down to the ring and beat the crap out of a guy. It was during a time when the WWE had a run on dull white guys like John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, watering down the Attitude era that came before it. Seeing Bautista’s deftness with comedy in this film, it’s clear World Wrestling Entertainment missed an opportunity to do more with his talents. He’s at times dry and at times outrageous and his literal interpretation of things never gets old.
Rocket continues to not sound nothing like Bradley Cooper, so I guess that’s a good job by Cooper? And modifying Vin Diesel’s voice to sound like a high-pitched munchkin baby is the funniest thing Diesel’s ever done in a never-funny career. There’s also a cameo that’s foretold in the opening credits, but it was still an unexpected treat to see another major star enter the MCU fold (as Starhawk). Pratt and Saldana are solid (Saldana looks utterly gorgeous, somehow, green as she is), but two shout-outs need to go to more supporting cast members.
The best thing since Matthew McConaughey’s renaissance is the re-emergence of Kurt Russell in major films. After 2007’s Grindhouse, there were four years with NO Kurt Russell movies, and you saw what that did to the economy. It wasn’t until 2015 with back-to-back Furious 7 and The Hateful Eight that Russell had really re-entered the fold, and now back-to-back-to-back Deepwater Horizon, The Fate of the Furious and GOTG Vol. 2 signal that the return is no fluke. Right now, he’s in the top two films in the country. Kurt’s back! And what a role to sink his teeth into, I mean his name is EGO. Russell owns it without overdoing it. He’s brash and confident without annoying swagger and the casting is perfect alongside Pratt’s equally self-assured Star-Lord.
Michael Rooker is excellent as Yondu, the ravager who took the young space-orphan Peter under his wing. His part is expanded and made more important in Vol. 2 and screen legend Rooker is up for the task. Here’s a guy who, for around thirty years, has just been putting in solid performance after solid performance, waiting for the next role that will be of substance. From Mississippi Burning to The Walking Dead, he’s always a sight for sore eyes. Here, he’s Billy Preston to the Guardians’ Beatles and he delivers the film’s best line in a key moment of the film’s finale.
It looks like this fall’s Thor: Ragnarock will expand The Avengers to galaxial heights and there’s a video going around showing Chris Pratt shooting The Avengers: Infinity War with Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Holland, meaning The Guardians of the Galaxy will meet up with The Avengers next year. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is impressive as hell. Is it possible it could get better?
Directed by: James Gunn
Release Date: May 5, 2017
Run Time: 136 Minutes
Distributor: Marvel Studios