Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Director/writer James Gunn's irony-drenched and super-flippant Guardians of the Galaxy was such a stonking success critically and in terms of box office back in 2014 that you can't really blame him and his Marvel paymasters for bringing back pretty much the same mix for the second round. The same bunch of intergalactic reprobates - Star Lord, Drax, Rocket, Groot and Gamora (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel's squeakily remixed voice, and the voice of Bradley Cooper) - are back together for more bickering and bravado, saving the galaxy from a living planet and a group of rebellious Ravagers along the way. Star Lord, AKA Peter Quill's, status as an abductee from Earth circa 1985 allows for the return of his fan-favourite Walkman-ready mixtapes which serve as an offbeat soundtrack to much of the wacky sci-fi action. It's loud and colourful - certainly the most eclectic in terms of design of all the Marvel movies - and perhaps comes closest of all to embracing the truly out-there possibilities of comics. Literally everything except winking at the camera seems to be a possibility, and technically this happens in the self-aware end credits. Yet I found watching it a way less satisfying experience than its predecessor.

Beyond the obvious fact that the initial surprise factor is gone and the film still engages in Marvel tropes like MASSIVELY CONFUSING FLYiNG SEQUENCES, maybe the problem here is that damn flippancy; as even though the same bunch of a-holes in space are back with the fate of the cosmos resting on their shoulders once more, it is hard to feel any sense of danger or stakes when these guys can cap off rounds at hordes of alien spaceships whilst not even looking (usually because they are bantering with each other). Of course, you can replace physical danger with emotional risks: and the probability that this family is too unstable to last becomes a major plot point, with Rocket too damaged emotionally and Peter at risk of splitting off from Gamora and the others when a long-lost family member reappears to tempt him to (possibly) the dark side. The character's are inherently likeable and spark well off each other, which helps make you care about them, even if Gamora feels noticeably underused. But Gunn has too many conflicts going on at once, and splits the gang up too. At any one time we are dancing between conflicts between Peter, Rocket, Yondu, Gamora, and Gamora's sister Nebula who is still out for her blood. The film and its emotional punch points feel too spread out, as does the danger, with about three different enemy groups in play at one time. It makes the film feel jittery. And one character's act at the very final battle seems really odd, like a betrayal not only of that character's core, but the whole arc the narrative is trying to steer us to.

This would matter less if the picture was just a constant laugh-ride, and don't get me wrong, GotG2 has some genuinely chuckle-licious moments, much of it the result of Dave Bautista's deadpanning as the nuance- free, literal-minded hulk known as Drax. There is plenty of that trademark undercutting of any moment that risks heading for the terrain of seriousness or sentimentality, so you have, for example, Pratt delivering a funeral eulogy at one point that ends up being an unabashed hymn to David Hasselhoff. But too often I saw these moments coming, I felt the pattern of gag delivery shaping up in front of me, and some extended punch lines - the Taserface one in particular- are just genuinely not that funny. Groot is cute, but moments where he goes goo-goo feel overused, a get out of jail free card. Gunn seems to have lost the ability to note that brevity is often a key element in keeping up the comedy level.

But the film is at least always interesting to look at, its colour palette and landscapes not limited in the same way most 'real world' Marvel movies are. Even if the worlds and alien creatures Gunn conjures up for us aren't always totally original - frankly it is hard to be in a world where CGI has already shown us so much conceptually on screen and Star Wars and 2001 still loom large - they are colourful and often used to great comic effect in the story. Quill flying through the air whilst using new found superpowers to shape rocks into a giant pac man suit of armour, or the regal flouncing of the Sovereign race with suits and bodies covered in pure gold (like Flash Gordon rejects); all provide great distractions. And in a film maybe packed too full with add-ons (think endless cameos by cult stars) the real MVP turns out to be Kurt Russel, clearly loving every minute of playing the celestial version of a retired, whisky-savouring badass.

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