Editor’s Notes: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is out on its home video format August 22nd.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (Buena Vista) opens with the Guardians battling an alien squid-like monster. Typically such a scene would be an action film’s set piece, but here it’s relegated to the background, often in soft focus. In the foreground, shuffling to the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” is Baby Groot, the small tree-like being, totally oblivious to the danger behind him despite a few close shaves when he’s nearly crushed by Guardians being flung about or by the bulbous creature itself crashing down inches from him.
This opening signals that the viewer is in for a lot of humor along with the requisite special effects, and the movie works hard to live up to those expectations.
The characters from the original film are back — Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt); green-complexioned Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista); Rocket, the wise-cracking raccoon with a sour attitude (voice of Bradley Cooper); and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel).
The new film takes place shortly after the first. The Guardians have been hired by an arrogant race of aliens called the Sovereigns, led by haughty, golden-skinned High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). When Rocket steals some valuable batteries, the indignant Ayesha orders a fleet of Sovereign robot ships to chase the Guardians’ ship. Forced to crash land on the planet Berhert, they encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), human in appearance but with the powers of a god. Ego claims to be Peter’s father.
Added to the mix are Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s sister with sibling issues, and Yondu (Michael Rooker), villainous leader of the Ravagers.
The team is separated for a good part of the film. Some are on Ego’s planet — a lush utopia that is not all it appears to be — while the others are prisoners of Yondu. While Yondu was a typical villain in the first film, he gets to show some humanity and decency this time.
Pratt conveys just the right blend of macho self-assurance and vulnerability as Quill. His scenes with Russell are especially effective, as Quill’s warrior veneer gives way to hurt when old wounds are reopened. For that scene, he becomes the little boy questioning his Dad why he wasn’t there for him. A scene in which Ego illustrates that Quill himself has god-like powers ends with the two of them forming raw energy into a sphere and playing a game of catch that they never could years earlier. Though a bit on the corny side, the brief scene serves to show the father-son bond.
Drax and Rocket provide most of the film’s laughs. Rocket is as surly and nasty as ever and his bad-tempered scowls are a hoot. Drax, who says whatever he’s thinking regardless of whose feelings will get hurt, has a couple of good scenes with Ego’s servant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who has the ability to sense others’ feelings simply by touching them. Drax offers unfiltered opinions about Mantis’ appearance that she doesn’t quite understand and instead construes as pleasantries. He also has the annoying habit of laughing hysterically at someone else’s embarrassment.
Director James Gunn has accomplished the difficult task of a sequel: he has included many of the elements that made the original movie a success while tweaking the formula enough to include interesting twists and unexpected revelations. The usual squabbling among the misfit team of scavengers is back and provides some good moments. At over two hours, the film moves briskly and never bogs down. The rag-tag group of characters makes this superhero movie stand apart from so many others. Each character is distinctive, and the franchise’s element of humor adds immeasurably to its appeal. The characters — warts and all — are good guys and we root for them.
There are pop culture references to the TV show Cheers, arcade game Pac-Man, and the film Mary Poppins, and a retro soundtrack made up primarily of 1980s hits adds to the quirkiness. Baby Groot is a natural scene stealer, playing an important part in the film’s climax, and Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee appears in a couple of cameos.
Rated PG-13, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 contains five bonus moments during the final credits that are worth waiting for.
Bonus materials on the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a 4-part behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film; introduction by director James Gunn; music video; gag reel; 4 deleted scenes; and audio commentary by director James Gunn. A digital HD copy is enclosed. The film is also available in a 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray Combo Pack, and on DVD.