Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Written & Directed by James Gunn

Superhero movies are all the rage these days and whether you’ve started to feel the fatigue yet or not, there are plenty more coming. Iron Man was the surprising starting point for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking a lesser known comic book hero and making him a cornerstone of their franchises. Now with the rights to Spider-Man once again, Marvel is positioning themselves to own the summer between the web-shooting teen and its most eclectic property which, like Iron Man before it, has proven to be a surprising success for the studio. Guardians of the Galaxy is a lesser known comic series, and yet it made a huge splash in 2014. Expect more of the same type of response from the fans for Awesome Mix Vol. 2.

The original film saw the unlikely coming together of a rag tag group of intergalactic characters. Now buddies, and considered heroes of the galaxy, guardians even, Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel), whose surviving twig now survives as a Baby version of Groot, find themselves at a crossroads when Quill finally discovers who his father is (Kurt Russell), while Gamora struggled with her relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Brought up by the Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker), Quill struggled to come to grips with who he is, while the fate of the galaxy comes into question once more.

What sold this franchise in its first iteration was this cast of characters, which continues with Vol. 2 in perhaps even better, and at times more personal, banter and adventures. The sci-fi angle at play in Guardians is different from the rest of Marvel in that it doesn’t take place on Earth, but by grounding the story in its characters, lead by a human from Earth (Quill), it becomes relatable. And now that the characters and their chemistry have been established with the first, writer/director James Gunn uses Vol. 2 as an opportunity to introduce the personal struggles of the characters, how they cope with them, and how their companionship has become a replacement for the often missing element of family in their lives. These themes are universal, which makes this film surprisingly emotional and effective, while also building its framework around something familiar. Also, I would be remiss to not mention Michael Rooker and how good he is here as Yondu. He deserves a mention.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not groundbreaking in the story its telling, it establishes nothing new and noteworthy, but it does succeed in continuing to build on the success of its characters and their place within this made up universe. It is consistently funny, with Bradley Cooper continuing to shine as the voice of Rocket Raccoon, Dave Bautista proving his performance in the first installment was no fluke as he is perfectly suited for Drax, and even Baby Groot bringing to necessary cuteness to the table. Like I said before, it’s an eclectic bunch, and one which works better as an ensemble than individuals. Quill for example, as the leading man, works wonderfully within the group, yet Chris Pratt still falls a little short of the charisma and on screen presence to be considered the leading man of this film. It works much better when they are all together then, for instance, when Quill is struggling with his inner identity.

James Gunn gets it though. He gets what makes this franchise and these characters so much fun and enjoyable, and he delivers that in droves while also injecting a little love and emotion. It’s a colorful film, a colorful bunch, and is bursting at the seems with 80s nostalgia. The filmmakers certainly have mastered the use of soundtrack to enhance the experience. Unlike some films which use soundtrack as a crutch on which to hold up the emotional notes of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, like its predecessor, use the music to enhance the scenes. It’s a heck of a ride, even if it is a bridge to something greater like Infinity War, but time spent with these characters will always be well spent when in the hands of a capable filmmaker like James Gunn. It’s a lot of fun, and that’s what this franchise should be all about.

*** – Very Good

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