Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Let's cut to the chase here; Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is... a good movie. It's definitely a good sequel to the original, an impressive feat, considering that film's almost one-of-a-kind tone, and the unexpected, lightning-in-a-bottle success it had upon its release. There are a couple of moments here that feel too much like just repeating notes from the original, for the most part, Vol. 2 does a good job of continuing in its same joyfully irreverant space adventure vein, without making the common sophomore mistake of merely doing exactly what the first film did, only "bigger". Returning director James Gunn manages to find ways to make this "volume" refreshingly different from the original, while still retaining the substantive, emotional characterizations from the first movie, while also managing to make numero dos here yes, undeniably bigger than the original at the same time.

...a little too big at times, if you ask me. Don't get me wrong, as the story of Guardians 2 is hardly as unfocused or unwieldy as something like (gulp) last year's Batman "V" Superman, but in general, it still bit off a bit more than it could chew, and I couldn't help but yearn for the relatively humble simplicity of the original at times. The storytelling is somewhat less focused here, as a "golden" race of constantly pestering antagonists feels like more of an excuse to keep the action running during potentially slow moments (and another element to figure into the film's somewhat bloated, overlong climax) rather than a necessary part of the film, and they should've just been forgotten about after their initial introduction.

And, visually, I went back and forth between being awed by the colorful splendor some of the special effects held in presenting the film's often audacious imagery & concepts (supposedly, one planet in particular consisted of one trillion polygons), and being overwhelmed by how much the film relied on such artificial, computer-generated spectacle at times, as it occasionally lost a bit of touch with the character-centered heart & soul that has truly distinguished this series to date. Sometimes, watching Vol. 2 is sort of like experiencing a certain disorienting hyperspace jump sequence for yourself (believe me, you'll know what I mean when you see it).

That being said, at least those characters weren't bored while they were in hyperspace, and neither was I, and a film that's a sometimes-overwhelming embarrassment of riches is still far more preferable to being forgettable, right? Right, and what Guardians still gets right is its characters, as Gunn continues the strong arcs he created in the original and expands upon them here, and it seems as though almost every main and supporting character (new and returning alike!) getting at least one memorable scene where we delve deeper into their particular thoughts and feelings, letting us grow closer to the motley crew of losers that call the galaxy of Guardians home. I particularly enjoyed the development Karen Gillan's intimidating cyborg assassin Nebula received here, as the film gives us vital additional background on her tortured relationship with her adoptive sister Gamora, rendering a fairly flat character in the original far more 3-dimensional here, but it's hard to choose just one favorite arc from this one, as there's plenty of good character development going on constantly.

Finally, a particular way Vol. 2 keeps itself fresh is in the intriguing way it uses its main villian of Ego, "The Living Planet", who is vividly portrayed by a gracefully aging Kurt Russell here. Ego is a basically a Godlike celestial being who turns out to be Starlord's father, which satisfyingly pays off a tantilizing mystery that was set up in the original film, and is a refreshing contrast to main antagonist of the first film, Ronan, whose motivations and characterization couldn't have been any more generic (although this was arguably by James Gunn's design). But initially, for Ego, it doesn't seem like there's even a remote chance he could be the film's main baddie, as he first comes across as an imperfect but still affectionate father who had no choice but to abandon Peter and his mother on Earth all those years ago, as he seeks to be a true father to his son now, and reveal to Quill all the metaphysical, "universe-expanding" possibilities his parentage avails to him.

And, while the moment of his turn to heel in the story may happen a bit suddenly, his motivation to absorb the entirety of the known universe still makes sense in retrospect, as Russell's performance does give off an undercurrent of arrogant, above-it-all-ness thoughout, even if we didn't realize it at the time, and most importantly, is a refreshing change for the sometimes villian-challenged MCU. Factor in a certain Empire Strikes Back-style plot twist that genuinely shocked me in the theater, and you have a really strong, compelling antagonist, and also just a great character in general. All of this and more adds up to a sophomore effort that, while not quite as fresh or humbly enjoyable as the original Guardians, was still a welcome watch for me, and another worthwhile entry in Marvel's ever-expanding cinematic "galaxy", as it were.

Final Score: 8

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