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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.

Review: ‘Colombiana’

Zoe Saldana in 'Colombiana'

Luc Besson loves girls with guns.

High-class married lady Isabelle Adjani pulled a gun out of her bag to threaten punks in 1985’s ‘Subway,’ Besson’s second film as a director. Low-class felon Anne Parillaud was unwillingly trained as an assassin in ‘La Femme Nikita,’ and a very young and violently-orphaned Natalie Portman yearned to be an assassin in ‘Leon’ (AKA ‘The Professional’). Perhaps it’s more accurate to describe Besson as a man who appreciates strong women, as in ‘The Fifth Element,’ ‘The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc,’ and the upcoming ‘The Lady.’ And then there are the dozens of films that he has written, co-written, and produced, most featuring feisty and/or powerful feminine figures.

Zoe Saldana is the latest Besson heroine in ‘Colombiana,’ a story that reportedly began life as a sequel to ‘Leon.’ Her character, Cataleya, played by Amandla Stenberg as a 9-year-old, is violently orphaned when her father tries to quit the criminal lifestyle in Colombia. She narrowly escapes death in a gleeful chase scene, finding refuge initially in the U.S. Embassy and later in the home of her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis) in Chicago. After a brief, vivid lesson on the risks inherent in being a hired killer, the film jumps forward 15 years to 2007, where the 24-year-old Cataleya executes a well-conceived plan and, well, executes someone with stealthy efficiency.

Cataleya is established as a woman who has no hesitation at using her physical assets, or any other means at hand, to achieve her goal. She is single-minded in her determination to exact revenge against Don Louis (Beto Benites), the man who ordered the death of her family, and Marco (Jordi Molla), the man who carried out the order. Little else matters to her, beyond a modest affection for her grandmother (Ofelia Medina) and a desire for regular sexual gratification from clueless boy toy Danny (Michael Vartan).

The details of the plot are clearly of minimal interest to the filmmakers, which encouraged me to tap my foot waiting for the next attempted murder. Olivier Megaton, who made ‘Transporter 3’ for Besson, puts all the juice into the action sequences, which are shredded into half-second bites suitable for swallowing without chewing. And because the story serves only as connective tissue linking the less than memorable action scenes, the movie erases itself from your memory as it plays.

‘Colombiana’ passes the time but struggles to maintain your attention.