Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 reveals an inherent flaw in the Marvel universe-building blueprint. Getting to know these sleeper-hit misfits is much more fun than revisiting them.
Starlord. Gamora. Drax. These weren't household name superheroes in 2014. They needed an origins story, some explanation of who, why and how these oddballs came to be. Guardians of the Galaxy was a genre rarity, a truly necessary introduction after too many renditions of radioactive spider bites and the like.
James Gunn's second spin with Marvel's interplanetary misfits still entertains but this time the fun feels forced. Gone is the original's scrappy underdog spirit and a director operating like it's his only chance to make a movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at times seems shaped by exit surveys, hammering points that audiences initially enjoyed while not always nailing them solidly. Each Guardian gets a subplot, even characters new to the series or previously on the fringe, jumbling an already frenetic creation.
Like another blockbusting franchise now in theaters, Guardians of the Galaxy rises and falls on the concept of family, in this case hilariously dysfunctional. Yet Vol. 2 suggests their issues are mostly ironed out except for Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper), who lives to irritate anyone. There are familial tensions to address apart from the others, limiting the snarky interactions that made them so lovable.
For Starlord a.k.a. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), it's the possibility that a galaxy god named Ego (Kurt Russell) may be his biological father. Peter's flirtation with green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) takes a back seat to her sibling rivalry with criminally inclined Nebula (Karen Gillan). Their romantic slack is picked up by Drax (Tampa's Dave Bautista), who's clumsily attracted to the Ego's empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Peter's foster father, Yondu (Michael Rooker), is practically a short movie unto himself, guest-starring Sylvester Stallone no less.
Then there's Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), benefiting the most and providing the least from Gunn's compulsion to give 'em what they want. Baby Groot is a mascot doing in CGI what puppies and babies do best in movies: make people go awwwww. His cuteness gets stale before the opening credits end.
That's a lot of plot for Gunn to lay out between gargantuan action sequences making the 3-D surcharge worth every penny. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an orgy of fanboy doodles come to life, imaginative ideas like Yondu's whistle-controlled slay arrow and Rocket's scampering placement of IEDs.
The musical soundtrack is once again a vital component, classic pop tracks from Peter's Walkman cassette player underscoring the plot. Fleetwood Mac's The Chain is perfectly employed while Brandy by Looking Glass is Ego's choice of humanity's finest art. Beyond the music, Gunn literally compares Peter and Gamora to Sam and Diane on Cheers, nudging the cultural reference conceit in an unbecoming direction.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bit of everything fans expect and for that reason it delivers less. These wonderful characters deserved one more fat chance of liking each other before doing it. What made Gunn's original so special was that it followed no formula. Now it is one.
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