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Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. 2

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone. the voices of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content)

Running Time: 2:16

Release Date: 5/5/17


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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 4, 2017

"All you do is yell at each other," a keen observer points out about our scrappy team of galaxy-savers. "You're not friends," she concludes. She would have been correct, if we were just going by the relationships established between the members of this team in the first movie. That one was so concerned with other things—with an orb and the mystical stone within it, a generic villain's routine plan of vengeance on a planetary scale, and trying too hard to do something different within the restraints of an expanded universe of superheroes—that the characters felt secondary. Their bantering was pretty much interchangeable, and they only existed to take us through a lot of plot.

The characters have opened up considerably in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. That simply might be a byproduct of knowing them from the first movie, except we never really got to know them amidst the details of the plot and returning writer/director James Gunn's belief that sarcastic remarks are all that it takes to undercut a usual story. No, the second film has decided that it's not going to play the Marvel game, in which everything needs to be interconnected and characters act as placeholders for future developments. This one is its own, idiosyncratic beast—an entertaining space adventure that cares more about jokes than action sequences and that, ultimately, cares more about its characters than the jokes.

We get the first part from the opening sequence, which is a four-on-one battle with a giant, tentacled monster with a wide jaw that contains rows of jagged, pointy teeth. Except it's not actually a fight. It's a dance sequence, featuring a pint-sized, sentient sapling shuffling its way across a glowing platform to Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky." The brawl is out of focus in the background, and occasionally, the tiny tree's partners pop into frame to make sure the little guy is safe.

The tree, of course, used to be bigger but was nearly destroyed during the climax of the last movie. Now it's Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), and it's "a smaller, dumber" version of its former self, which is, as the leader of a group of space pirates admits when he has the tree in his clutches, "too adorable to kill."

In a way, Baby Groot is representative of Gunn's methodology here, which seems to be a means of addition by way of subtraction. Groot was a one-joke character, who simply said his catchphrase ("I am Groot") over and over again, with its partner Rocket (voice of the Bradley Cooper), the genetically modified raccoon with a love for big firearms, translating the nuances of the tree's single pronouncement.

Baby Groot is, indeed, dumber and forgetful, leading to a very funny sequence in which it tries to retrieve a certain piece of technology, only to return with—in order of questionable thinking on the sapling's part—a pair of underwear, a desk, and something that was once attached to someone. Baby Groot's short-term memory comes up again during the climax, when it has to push one of two buttons—one which starts a five-minute timer and the other which means instant death. The sapling really likes the second button.

Groot is smaller in size but richer in comedy. The same goes for the entirety of the film. Its plot is more intimate, without the threat of multiple villains trying to destroy the universe for shaky reasons (There's only one villain this time around, although his goal is the same), and Gunn, unrestrained by the constant need to justify the film's existence within a bigger franchise, lets the comedy flow and the characters develop.

Rocket is still a rascal, but the pain and uncertainty of his existence is much more than a monologue here. Drax (Dave Bautista), the hulking purple-skinned humanoid who takes things literally, has learned how to take and make a joke, although he's compelled to explain the gag. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned daughter of a galactic baddie, learns that her selfishness has prevented her from having any sort of meaningful relationship, especially with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), whose body is mostly machine and who has a single-minded plan to avenge her condition.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), the roguish hero who was taken from Earth by Yondu (Michael Rooker) as a child, finally meets his father. That's the main thrust of the plot, as Ego (Kurt Russell), a "celestial" who fell in love with Peter's mother, tries to teach his son the ways of being a godlike entity in a vast, seemingly meaningless universe—and to bond with him of "Brady (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass. For his part, Peter is just happy to have a father with whom to play catch, and there's an amusing but touching scene where he gets to do just that—with a glowing ball of blue energy that he has created out of nothing.

Everything—from the jokes to even the plot—feels specifically related to these characters. The humor isn't just broad sarcasm anymore (Gunn, perhaps unintentionally, takes a dig at that comic approach in exchange between Peter and Rocket, after they fight over the controls to the ship during a dogfight). Each of these characters has his or her own style of humor. Gunn gets beneath that, too, and observes how the constant joking is a form of defense for these characters. Their bond isn't just about snide remarks and saving the galaxy. That's why these guys finally feel like a team in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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