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Saving the Galaxy One Wisecrack at a Time

Chris Pratt
Chris Pratt
Walt Disney Studios
 136 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Perhaps the most eye-popping special effect in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is one of the simplest. In one of the first scenes of the movie, a young couple in 1980 is out for a joyride as the man proclaims his love for the woman to the tune of the Looking Glass hit, “Brandy.” The man is Kurt Russell, not the Kurt Russell of today, but the clean-cut, youthful 1980’s Russell looking just as fresh as when he played the smooth-talking salesman in Used Cars. The second most eye-popping thing about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t even a special effect. Instead, it’s the fact that, like Russell in that opening scene, the sequel seems just as fresh and sparkling as the original Guardians did three years ago.


For the record, the Guardians are a team of seemingly totally mismatched mercenaries, who banded together in the first film and are now content to do whatever types of dirty and dangerous jobs need to be done as long as the money is right. Their leader is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star Lord, an earthling who was taken from his home planet as a child and raised by a group of scruffy space bandits known as the Ravagers. The other more-or-less human-looking members of the crew are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the most sensible of the group, and muscleman Drax (Dave Bautista). They are assisted by Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered raccoon who is an expert pilot and weapons specialist, and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), a small plant creature that is literally an offshoot of Rocket’s giant tree creature companion from the first film.


As Vol. 2 begins, the Guardians accept as assignment from an advanced race of golden aliens known as the Sovereigns. They complete their assignment but then have to flee from the Sovereigns’ planet when Rocket steals some batteries (a form of currency in the futuristic universe) from the Guardians’ now displeased hosts. In the ensuing chase, the Guardians’ ship is damaged and crashes on an uninhabited planet. Soon, however, relief comes in the form of Ego (Russell), an alien who helped the Guardians out in the battle with the Sovereigns and offers to take them to his home planet so they can stock up on supplies and the needed materials to repair their ship. Ego has a personal motive for helping out Quill; he is Quill’s biological father, who met Quill’s mother (in the aforementioned pre-credits sequences).


The remaining members of the Guardians aren’t left behind for long, however. Instead, they are captured by a group of Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), the man who took Quill as a child and served as a Fagin-like foster father figure to the youngster. Yondu has a falling out with his shipmates, who want to find Quill and turn him over to the Sovereigns. Instead, Yondu teams up with Rocket and Baby Groot to dispose of the mutineers and go looking for Quill to warn him about the trouble he’s in. Of course, they are unaware that Quill is now with his biological father and beginning to make up for lost time in bonding with Ego.


Although the preceding plot synopsis sounds intricate, in reality, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 has a fairly simple storyline and which in many ways is comparable to a typical morality play episode of the original Star Trek TV series expanded to 140 minutes. In fact, Guardians of the Galaxy reverses the usual progression of most comic book film series (this is, after all a product of the Marvel factory). The first movie had an intricate plot that was at times difficult to follow with a host of different races and characters. The group that becomes the Guardians seemed to spring fully formed onscreen, especially Quill whose backstory is relegated to a couple of brief scenes.


By contrast, the plot in Vol. 2 is considerably simpler, and the film spends more time dealing with character issues. And boy, do these characters have issues, most notably Quill, who is trying to make up for 30 years without a father and, instead, finds himself with two. Gamora has family issues as well as she does battle with her assassin sister Nebula (Karen Gillen), whose hatred of Gamora stems from a massive case of sibling rivalry (“Dad always liked you best”). Rocket has no siblings or parents that he knows of, but he does carry a huge chip on his shoulder and constant inferiority worries that he masks by lashing out in inappropriate behavior. The only, er, person without real issues is Baby Groot, who is still incredibly naïve about the world and incredibly slow on the uptake as well. As Vol. 2 makes its way to its inevitable spectacular finale, the concept of extended family becomes paramount. It’s ironic that the two most viable film franchises right now are Guardians of the Galaxy and The Fast and the Furious, which share both actors Diesel and Russell and the importance they place on being part of a family.


Of course, what separated the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the host of other comic book sagas was the film’s completely irreverent tone and the notion that none of the characters were really taking potentially earth shattering plot developments seriously. Instead, director James Gunn infused the film with a lively 80’s soundtrack (supposedly the mixtape young Quill had with him when he was captured) and a sharp wit, one that nearly every character in the movie had an opportunity to display at times. This time around, he repeats the formula with several innovative twists, most notably the character of Baby Groot. The adult Groot was a single joke repeated several times—the fact that Groot’s dialogue consisted only of the words, “I am Groot.” Baby Groot has an equally limited vocabulary (albeit one sounding like Vin Diesel on helium), but the character generates a disproportionate amount of the humor.


Director Gunn, who also wrote the screenplay for both Guardians of the Galaxy films, has to reconcile the movie’s generally flippant tone (this franchise has about ten times the humor of The Fast and the Furious films or the usual Marvel dramas) with some sobering plot developments. And, despite the fact that Vol. 2 has a couple of “teaching moments” that could have been cribbed directly from Star Trek, Gunn does an excellent job of threading the needle between the serious and the not-so-serious. The trick is timing, letting the emotion of the moment sink in just long enough before some character breaks the tension with some crude but effective humor. 


Sequels of innovative, crowd-pleasing movies have a tough time living up to their predecessors. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 does so by not falling into the usual sequel rut of trying to one up the original. Make no mistake, the movie has plenty of CGI action designed for 3D viewing, so action buffs will certainly be satisfied. But those who enjoyed the original’s offbeat characters will find just as much to enjoy in the sequel and, just as Joe Pesci livened up Lethal Weapon 2, a couple of the newcomers here should be welcome additions to future films in the series. Fans of the original movie can rest assured; its legacy is very well guarded here.

In this scene, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) tries to explain to Baby Groot how to detonate a bomb.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) on IMDb