Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyVol2-300A buoyantly silly sci-fi romp, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is completely enjoyable, if more than a bit familiar. That’s by design, of course.

By the time James Gunn rewrote Nicole Perlman’s script and then directed Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released in August 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was feeling hit-and-miss, quality-wise. (See Iron Man and its sequel, or Thor and its sequel.) Adding to the malaise, just a few months earlier Edgar Wright had departed Ant-Man after years of development due to “creative differences.”

Around that same time, Captain America: The Winter Soldier started to set the ship aright, as far as introducing new, if still straightforward, textures to the Marvel series, and then the first Guardians of the Galaxy represented the first full-bore science-fiction entry.

The film introduced a ragged team of misfits who were less familiar to the general public. Even though it was still an origin story, it felt fresh, in part because it wasn’t tied specifically to any other Marvel films, and in part because it wasn’t focused on an apocalyptic threat to planet Earth. Instead, the action was set against a rich variety of colorful, invented backgrounds, following, in effect, a gang of thieves who slowly bonded. And Gunn told his tale in a sprightly fashion.

As the 15th installment of Marvel’s series — and the seventh sequel — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 inevitably follows well-worn patterns. Gunn’s sense of humor, though, notably his tendency to ridicule anything that appears grand or showy or pretentious, once again serves the characters well and also tends to undermine self-serious grandiosity.

By the story he chooses to tell, Gunn falls more in line with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell). He also must sort through his feelings about Yondu (Michael Rooker), the belligerent pirate who raised him and who has now been hired to capture him.

That allows family relationships among the guardians to take top priority: Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan); Rocket the raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his now infantile “brother” Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); even Drax (Dave Bautista), who talks of his lost wife and child to the sisterly Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who, in turn, cares for Ego like a daughter.

In between the family talk and character reveals, Gunn also weaves in a tale of revenge and retribution pursued by the arrogant Sovereign race, led by the haughty Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), who hired Yondu to capture Peter Quill and the guardians.

It’s all perfectly harmless, as one expects nowadays from a Marvel comic book movie. The foes are vanquished, the heroes are validated, and the importance of family above all else as the key to happiness is driven home. Funny that the film, which dares to feature a god, never touches on issues of worship or divinity or religion or anything that might be genuinely troublesome.

Then again, that’s not its intention. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an animated film, well-integrated with live-action players, that is targeted at the young adult audience. Its sole purpose is to entertain, not to disturb or question the order of things; it’s a goal that it meets quite well.

The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, May 5.