By Marty Mulrooney
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – once again written and directed by James Gunn, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures – is the sequel to the critically and commercially successful comedy/science fiction/superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). In this much-anticipated follow-up, the Guardians must stand beside Peter Quill as he finally discovers who his father is. Meanwhile, the team is being hunted by a race of golden-skinned, genetically-engineered beings known as the Sovereigns, who become furious after Rocket steals some batteries from them…
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 begins on planet Earth with a flashback set in the 1980s, showing Peter Quill’s mother with his father – an impressively de-aged Kurt Russell. As their sun-kissed love blossoms, Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass plays, capturing a moment that feels – if there was any justice in the universe – like it could last forever. Fast-forward to the present, and the Guardians are waiting to do battle with an inter-dimensional monster on behalf of the Sovereign race.
As Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the team’s sound system, the familiar opening notes of Mr Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra begin to play. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has officially begun, and it’s already an embarrassment of riches. While Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Salanda), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) fight the beast in the background, Baby Groot dances front and centre. It’s a wonderful opening credits sequence that wires directly into your smiling and foot-tapping muscles.
By now, we’ve already established at the very least that the soundtrack – Awesome Mix Vol. 2 – is indeed awesome, and it gets even better when The Chain by Fleetwood Mac kicks in. But what about the film itself? Well for once, the trailer hasn’t given everything away. In fact, the opening fight sequence could quite happily serve as the big-budget conclusion to a lesser film (albeit without adorable Baby Groot wiggling his hips and obscuring your view).
It’s so refreshing to watch a big blockbuster film that hasn’t already revealed all of its secrets in the trailers prior to release. Yes, 99% of cinema-going audiences will already be fully aware that Peter’s father is going to show up, played with incredible warmth and charm by the legendary Kurt Russell. Yet that’s only half the story – and it’s the other half that is really going to rock your preconceptions and surprise you.
A great example of this is the return of Yondu, played with effortless rough-and-ready charm by Michael Rooker. A supporting character in the first film, here he’s given a serious bump in screen time and in many ways Vol. 2 is actually his film. His first scene sees him exiled from the greater Ravager community by his superior Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) for child trafficking (?!) before agreeing to hunt the Guardians down for Ayesha, leader of the slighted Sovereigns.
The actors gel together beautifully, despite the main team being apart for the majority of Vol. 2’s runtime. Yondu and Rocket; Peter and his father; Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan); the smaller moments of character interaction are exquisitely executed, uncovering more about what makes each person tick while going some way towards explaining their actions, if not always excusing them.
Peter Quill’s father also has a helper (who he raised) called Mantis, played with endearing quirkiness by French actress Pom Klementieff. Possessing empathic powers, she can experience someone’s emotions by touching them. This is initially played for laughs, until she touches Drax and experiences his constant grief over the loss of his wife and child. It’s a startling moment of insight, especially when Drax spends the majority of the film laughing at the top of his voice and making bad jokes. These two characters are equally awkward socially but somehow seem made for each other, despite Drax constantly telling her how hideous she is.
It’s hard to say much more without taking away the full impact of several gut-punching moments that arrive with the action-packed finale. The truth behind Peter Quill’s parentage is dark, shocking and twisted, with a planet-sized reveal. There is a moment near the end where Peter must fight using his heart – not his head – that ripped the breath from this reviewer because it felt so authentic, earned and heartfelt. This is probably the only Marvel film where you could be excused for shedding tears without losing street cred.
Most films filled with this much CGI lack a soul, but that isn’t a problem at all when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Despite looking incredible (and colourful!), it doesn’t rely on special effects or action sequences to put in all of the legwork; although they are awe-inspiring when they do occur, especially when Yondu retakes control of his flying arrow.
This isn’t a perfect film, if such a thing even exists. Not all of the jokes hit their mark – toilet humour should be beneath this franchise – and there is so much going on that some of the Guardians (Gamora and Drax in particular) don’t get enough screen time. Let’s be honest: nearly everybody will have something or someone they wish there was more of or less of… but that’s what Vol. 3 is for.
This is a genuinely funny (often hilarious), highly entertaining sequel with an intelligent script of surprising emotional depth. It tells a story that drives home the fact that ‘family’ doesn’t necessarily mean blood relatives, while arguing that there’s more to being a father than simply bearing children. In all honesty I found it incredibly moving and I can’t wait to watch it again. Yondu was right: the final score of this review comes from the heart.
10 OUT OF 10