Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Right from the get-go, director James Gunn wants to remind you that this is no regular Marvel movie. This is Guardians of the Galaxy. The surprise hit based on characters no one really cared about, who now everyone cares about. Instead of Chris Pratt dance fighting his way to an objective, now it’s Baby Groot dancing while a massive monster fight happens behind him out of focus. But Volume 2 isn’t around just to lay down more jokes and establish itself as the comedic heart of the Marvel universe (which it does). It is here to play with some pretty impressive themes and actual emotions.

As hinted in the first film, Peter Quill’s father is out there somewhere and he’s most likely an alien. His name is Ego, appropriately played by a smug Kurt Russell, and he is of a race known as the Celestials. God, with a small ‘g’. Ego rules over his very own planet that he built himself by manipulating matter over millions of years. And he wants his son to work with him, to make the galaxy a better place. You might have guessed, but Ego’s intentions aren’t exactly ethical on a personal level.

The whole team is back, with some added faces for good measure. Drax and Rocket get a lot more screen time, giving their respective characters chances to shine in a comedy so often dominated by Chris Pratt. The addition of Mantis is a welcome one, as she provides an equally clueless foil to Drax. Their interactions are among the best in the movie. Gamorra has been relegated to the usual female role in a Marvel movie. That of the question asker, “What’s going on? Why would you do that? How do I move the plot forward without it seeming forced?” Throwing in the very drab Nebula sister side plot just exasperates an already incredibly boring situation. More Drax and Mantis please.

Kurt Russell is a welcome addition as the scene chewing Ego. And his transformation into terrifying baddie is wonderful. The scene where he and Quill play catch with a ball of energy is so ludicrous I imagine it was the starting point of the whole film’s story creation.

Volume 2 is just as funny as the original, if not more so because they did it twice. But Volume 2 is much more bold than the original and it gets serious points for trying very hard to inject real emotion into the plot. For starters, Quill has found the dad he never knew. The one who abandoned his mom. His emotional state runs through some serious highs and lows, especially after the bombshell Ego reveals late in the film.

And there is nary an infinity stone in sight! This movie is pure character development and almost all of them are richer for it. We get to see Rocket’s hard outer shell cracked open to the vulnerable being inside. We watch Nebula and Gamorra wrestle with their clear trauma at the hands of Thanos. And we get to debate the merits of remaking the universe in your image.

It’s bold, it’s fresh, and even if the movie has most of the plot of Captain America: Civil War, it still feels new to the Marvel universe.

What holds the movie back is an issue of writing. Forced contrivances riddle the Marvel world, but the original Guardians felt very free of it. In the sequel we are treated to yet another scene where Gamorra gets mad at Quill. Except Quill gets mad back for very little reason. There’s a couple scenes like this that could have used a revision or too. And there’s a funny but ill-timed pac-man joke near the end. Usually the movie does a great job of balancing comedy and drama with an err towards comedy. But that one seemed a little excessive and pulled me out of the gravity of the situation.

I won’t say who, but someone does die at the end. And I applaud Marvel for finally having the balls to off someone in a way that doesn’t feel forced. It’s treated with reverence, but when the movie seems to bounce from reverence to overly comical, it loses a bit of its staying power.

In the end, we are positive that Star-Lord shoots first. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 definitely shoots first as well. It’s aim is just a tiny bit off.

3 out of 4 stars.

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