Saturday, May 20, 2017

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Adventure
Runtime: 2 hr. 16 min.

In 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was the first Marvel movie to depart from little old Earth and venture out into the nine realms. The film was to be the franchise's first test to see if their more "out there" characters could find a place among the Marvel cinematic fanbase. Luckily, at the helm was director James Gunn who utilized this quirky group of misfits -and 70's/80's musical nostalgia- to spin a tale that was itself refreshing, but still harkened back to B-style science-fiction adventure tales like Flash Gordon (albeit with a slightly larger budget). The result was another Marvel cinematic success story, and with any prosperous entry comes a sequel.

Enter Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; a title whose tongue-in-cheek reference to the soundtrack already sets the stage for another euphonious romp through the stars. The film starts off with our "heroes" looking to make some cash by working for for the elite race known as The Sovereign and stopping an interdimensional being from eating a highly prized battery. Yep, that's the setup. Now the punchline sets up one of the most inventive fight sequences in a Marvel film to date. As Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) try to keep the beast at bay, the camera instead follows Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) as he dances his way around the battlefield. Sadly, I only saw the picture in 2D, but I am guessing the 3D in this moment is something to behold. Easily one of the best openers in the Marvel canon, and sets the film up for another successful outing.

Rocket being, well, Rocket, decides to steal some of the power cells for the battery they were protecting, which infuriates the Sovereign High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). This leads to a spectacular space battle, which the Guardians only narrowly escape thanks to an anonymous helper. Their ship destroyed the group begins to fight amongs themselves and show signs of a tear beginning to form. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) stifles at a brothel after losing riches to Quill in the previous film. Soon he comes face to face with the head of the Ravagers, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), a group he had joined and was in when tasked with protecting Quill in the first film. Ogord dismisses Yondu from the Ravagers for mistakes he has made that go against their code. Soon after, Yondu is approached by High Priestess Ayesha and tasked with finding Quill and his crew once again. During this time, and unbeknown to Yondu, his crew is having second thoughts about his ability to lead.

While there is plenty of fun to be had in Vol. 2, the film falters a bit in trying to keep pace with an overly constructed story. Where Guardians let the film flow and let the explanations come naturally, much of the sequel's runtime is devoted to over explanation. This is none clearer than in its introduction of Quill's father, Ego (Kurt Russell), whom was the anonymous savior at the film's open. A celestial (Marvel's term for extremely powerful immortal beings that aren't quite "gods"), his character spends plenty of the movie explaining his origins, how he came to meet and impregnate Quill's mother, and the how's and why's of Quill's successive powers; in turn, explaining why Star-Lord was able to hold onto an Infinity Stone for so long in the previous film. The whole process is quite a bit to take in, even for a Marvel veteran, and within all the explanation we never truly understand why Ego really requires Quill to complete his plan (a tidbit I won't go into in this review to avoid spoilers) beyond the cursory "I need the extra help because I can't do it by myself". It all just seems a bit arbitrary and the film spends so much time building up the character that one would hope to have a better explanation for the main driving plot of the film.

Now this does not mean that the slower parts of the film don't have heart. We learn more about Drax's history as he explains it to Ego's empathic helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), we unearth more of the "unspoken" between Quill and Gamora, and Rocket and Yondu learn they have more in common than originally thought. A heartfelt moment between Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) stands as one of the most honest and teary moments of the film and even the Marvel universe as a whole.

There is a lot of quality character building and tension in Guardians, but some of it is undone by an untimely quip or two. I understand the film is supposed to be a mostly fun ride, so delving too deep into the dark nature of some of the events wouldn't be characteristic of the film. The issue I have with the bulk of the jokes, however, is that they fall at unnecessary times despite remaining legitimately funny. For example, a white-knuckle scene involving Rocket and Yondu being interrogated, is turned on its side when Rocket takes notice of the odd name for one of his captors. It's a funny sequence, but quells any dramatic traction the film had garnered to that point. The film simply doesn't have the same balance as the original when it comes to weighting the more dramatic sequences with the hilarious ones.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a worthy successor to the confident original, and while it may falter a bit when it comes to plot balances and explanations, it's also filled with incredible action set pieces and a triple-dose of hilarity. 3.5/5

- The Catalyst

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