Directed by James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker and Sylvester Stallone with Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
Production: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
My Rating: *****/5
The summer movie season has started with a bang with the release of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2”. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen many twists and turns in the nine years since the release of the first “Iron Man,” director James Gunn keeps the momentum of Phase 3 going with a stellar follow-up to the first surprise hit film from 2014.
Six months have passed since the events of the first film. After a dazzling opening fight scene against an alien monster set to “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra, the Guardians are still trying to come to terms with their new responsibilities as reluctant heroes. In particular, Peter Quill, also known as “Star Lord,” must deal with an attempt to reconcile with his father, Ego the Living Planet. Ego is also not what he seems, as shown from how he courted Quill’s mother in the American South in 1980. Complicating matters further is Yondu wanting to capture the Guardians for the leader of the Sovereign because of Rocket Raccoon stealing a valuable set of batteries, as well as Drax the Destroyer courting the mysterious figure Mantis. Gamora must also form a reluctant alliance with her adoptive sister Nebula, and Groot has been reborn as a sapling since the events of the first film.
If the previous paragraph sounds totally ridiculous, you’d be right. The first film proved to be a fun surprise in an otherwise unremarkable summer movie season, and the script (also written by Gunn) wholeheartedly embraces the ludicrous setup of the Marvel comic it was based on.
Gunn has been no stranger to completely bizarre setups and unique visual styles ever since he directed the underrated horror-comedy gem “Slither.” Now, he has been given a $200 million budget that he makes use of in a stunning visual feast that would not be out of place among the many science fiction films that were released in the wake of the success of the original
“Star Wars” trilogy in the 1970s and 1980s. The performances that Rocket and baby Groot put on are every bit as lively as the live-action works that Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel took part in. Michael Rooker as Yondu gets a redesigned form with a flashy mohawk, and shows off a flurry of arrow trickery in a daring escape set to Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer.”
The film also has a darker and more character-driven story than the first film. The themes of family and loyalty are key driving forces of the story, and the final battle incorporates many parts of the universe that were previously established and countless others that have yet to be discovered. It even plays a large part in establishing the Guardians’ appearance in “Avengers: Infinity War” next year. While the humor that made the first film so beloved remains in spades (watch for a cameo from Stan Lee as a spaced-out astronaut), even the jokes are a bit more risque in this installment. The entrance of Sylvester Stallone’s character takes place on an alien planet rife with alien and android escorts for any pleasures their host may desire.
While following up a film as successful and beloved as the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” was never going to be an easy task, James Gunn has exceeded expectations in the best way possible. The film is a massive love letter to the Marvel canon and the science fiction films of the 1970s and 1980s, set to a playlist of classic rock and MoTown music dubbed as “Awesome Mix Volume 2.” There are few films you could see where a talking tree sapling and a wisecracking raccoon argue over a makeshift nuclear weapon and it would fit the world the movie has built completely. The film also has cameo appearances from not only celebrities such as David Hasselhoff and Rob Zombie, but other Marvel characters such as the cult favorite Howard the Duck (voice of Seth Green).
Full of hilarious comedy, wondrous special effects and a fantastic story, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2” is an ideal start to the summer movie season and another great entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the film already proving a huge critical and commercial smash, it not only sets the stage for the planned “Vol.3” in the coming years, it also should prove to be a great warmup for “Spider-Man Homecoming” in July and “Thor: Ragnarok” in November. As a delightfully cheesy ‘80s-styled ballad sung by David Hasselhoff says, “in these troubled times, just remember: we are Groot.”
Story by Steven Pryor