Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

As weird a comparison as it is, let's start with the recent hit film The Fate of the Furious, released nearly a month ago. First, two of the actors in that movie are present here. Vin Diesel was the star of The Fate of the Furious. Here, he's just an occasional voice but a crucial character. Kurt Russell who basically guest starred in The Fate of the Furious is an important, supporting character here. Secondly, one of the key themes, if not the primary theme in The Fate of the Furious, is the idea of family, especially family of non-blood relation, the family one makes. In fact, both movies have the line of dialogue, "We're family." Both movies hinge their plots on the relationship between a father and son. However, where The Fate of the Furious fails, this movie succeeds. Maybe it's because The Fate of the Furious is the eighth in its series and maybe it's because the cast is too large, but arguably writer-director James Gunn juggles the same amount of people. Yet, unlike The Fate of the Furious, this movie gives an emotional arc to all of its characters and makes us feel for all of them.

Chris Pratt (Jurassic World and The LEGO Movie) reprises his role as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, the charming and buff hero. He's at the center of the poster and the narrative, but the movie feels very much like an ensemble and most, if not all of the characters get equal weight. This time, instead of chasing after a MacGuffin, Peter meets his father, Ego, played by Russell, and visits Ego's home world. Peter learns about his biological family's past. Yet, so do a lot of the other characters and it's done in a way that enriches all of them, giving us a deeper understanding of them all.

Zoe Saldana (Avatar and Star Trek) co-stars as Gamora, the daughter of Thanos who raised her to be a warrior. Gamora was always pitted against her sister, Nebula, played by Karen Gillan. Gamora was always the better warrior, which made Nebula jealous and resentful. It made Nebula also want to kill her sister. Gamora has to deal with that head-on in this movie. It's not just a throw-away, fight scene, as in the previous film.

Dave Bautista (Riddick and Spectre) returns as Drax the Destroyer, an alien warrior whose species is supremely literal and who doesn't get metaphor. Thanos killed his wife and child, and Drax is still reconciling that. He has a hole in him and he's adopted the other members as his makeshift family to fill that hole.

Bradley Cooper (The Hangover and Silver Linings Playbook) voices Rocket Raccoon, a genetic experiment that gave the large rodent human-like qualities. Rocket is also fierce, cunning and smart. He's sly like a fox. In fact, he prefers to be called anything but a raccoon. He's a bit of an ass though. He has a foul mouth that likes to insult all. He can also build or repair any electronic or mechanical device that can be used as a weapon or in outer space. He's tough on the outside, a defense for being unique but he's sensitive inside not wanting to be hurt as he has been.

Michael Rooker (Cliffhanger and The Bone Collector) also returns as Yondu, the adoptive father of Peter. He originally kidnapped Peter off Earth on orders from Ego. Yondu was supposed to deliver Peter to Ego on his home-world, but Yondu kept Peter for himself and raised him. Yondu is the leader of a group of space pirates known as Ravagers. His second-in-command is Kraglin, played by Sean Gunn. Kraglin always wondered why Yondu adopted Peter. This movie answers that, underscoring that biology isn't always the determinant factor for family.

Gunn's screenplay also riffs on not only the Marvel Comics, which inspired these movies, but also classic, Greek mythology. This whole thing could be Clash of the Titans but set in outer space and very science-fiction heavy. It could also stand as a spoof of all that. Gunn goes further than Joss Whedon in his level of humor and pop culture references. There's of course a lot of bodily humor whether it's Drax's nipples and excretions or it's Ego's penis, which perhaps trumps the Jackson Pollock joke last time.

Gunn perhaps primes the pump for the remake of Baywatch later this month with tons of jokes about David Hasselhoff. Yet, the pop culture references don't stop there. Gunn is able to weave them into the fabric brilliantly. He even manages to deflect criticisms of recent action-flicks with a lot of CGI looking too much like a video game with the inclusion of video game iconography and a battle that literally has its combatants playing video games.

This brings me to the violence in this film. The opening of this piece almost picks up where the scene in the last film's credits leave off. Groot, the walking-talking tree, in baby or rather toddler form, kicks off this movie dancing to music. The crazy violence is obscured for the adorable nature of tiny Groot. One wonders if this opening is to atone for the horrific violence perpetrated by Groot in the previous installment or if this is just to set the tone for this one.

The answer is no. The amount of carnage and deaths is arguably just as horrific. The film features an extended scene of Yondu using his red fin and piercing arrow to murder tons of people. Gunn even delights in watching those tons of bodies fall in slow-motion. It's a moment that is unnecessary and brutal for no real purpose.

Pom Klementieff plays Mantis, a character that serves a plot function, but her presence felt extraneous. She's mostly placed opposite Drax to be a kind of female mirror for him, but he didn't need that. She also seemed like an obvious love interest being set up, which I didn't care for.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 16 mins.

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