It's tough to say what you're likely to find more fun this weekend: watching "Guardians of the Galaxy 2"...or telling everyone else, "You've gotta see "Guardians 2!!!" This is a word-of-mouth movie that honestly doesn't need the hype, but it's such a dazzling, hilarious, thoroughly entertaining thrill-ride that you're gonna want to recommend it right away - probably as you're getting in line to see it for a second time. Or a third.
If you saw "Guardians of the Galaxy," Marvel's 2014 dark horse sci-fi/superhero comedy about a band of mercenary misfits who wind up saving the universe, you'll be happy to know that the whole crew is back on board for round two. Peter Quill, aka "Starlord" (Chris Pratt, "Jurassic World") continues to set the tone with his laid-back leadership and his love of a good 70s song. Green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana, "Live By Night") serves as second in command and continues to rebuff Quill's advances; his earnest attempt to woo by comparing their will they/won't they dynamic to Sam and Diane on "Cheers" gets him nowhere.
Rounding out the rest of the core crew are hulking warrior Drax (Dave Bautista, "Bushwick"), who's lightened up considerably since the original "Guardians", fan-favorite Groot (Vin Diesel, "Fate of the Furious," voice), the walking tree who regenerated at the end of the last movie and now appears as the indescribably adorable "Baby Groot," and the cynical Rocket (Bradley Cooper, "Joy," voice), a genetically-enhanced raccoon who's just as peevishly aggressive as he was during the Guardians' first adventure.
There's a ton of story here, and "Guardians 2" gets right to it with a flashback to introduce Quill's star-crossed origin tale (his mom's a lovely Midwestern gal, and his dad's a - well, you'll see), then drops us in the middle of a skirmish. The Guardians are in full mercenary mode, fighting to protect valuable merchandise from being stolen by a seemingly indestructible foe, and this opening sequence sets the film up perfectly. Someone hits "play" and we've got Baby Groot dancing delightedly in the foreground to the strains of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" while furious fighting happens behind - and sometimes around, or over - him. It's joyously funny and fast-moving and serves as great introduction or quick refresher on how this crew squabbles and snarks but snaps into action at a moment's notice, backing each other's plays, shoring up weaknesses, and making sure everyone gets out safe. In short, they're a family - a point that's brought home time and time again, both quietly and overtly, throughout the film.
Although they are successful in staving off the would-be thief, the job leads the Guardians into a mess with the Sovereigns, a race of statuesque gold-skinned beings with a well-developed superiority complex that seems calculated to get on everyone's nerves. But the plot's really driving toward a long-awaited meeting between Quill and his father, Ego (Kurt Russell, "Grindhouse: Death Proof"). Saying too much about the relationship and what's motivating Ego to seek out his son after leaving Quill's mother all those years ago would spoil the story, but it provides for some gorgeous visuals as Quill, Gamora, and Drax warily explore Ego's home planet, and quite a few laughs as the increasingly relaxed but still socially awkward Drax gets to know Ego's empathic protégé Mantis (Pom Klementieff, "Oldboy").
There's also plenty of time for some father-son bonding as Ego's coaching of Quill to discover his heretofore unguessed-at superpowers resolves into a silly but touching game of catch. And, it's a hoot to hear Ego explain his absence during Quill's formative years by wringing some profundity out of Looking Glass's classic anthem of abandonment, "Brandy."
Meanwhile, the team's been split up, with Rocket, Baby Groot, and Gamora's combative sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, Doctor Who) running afoul of Quill's adoptive dad/nemesis Yondu (Michael Rooker, The Walking Dead) and winding up in a full-scale mutiny waged by Yondu's Ravager crew. You know the plot's going to bring everyone back together again eventually, and while "Guardians 2" generally moves at a brisk pace, it's not above pausing for comic relief. One highlight of this is a leisurely and absolutely not-to-be-missed sequence where the imprisoned Rocket and Yondu seek escape by sending the well-meaning but simple Baby Groot on a retrieval mission with each attempt leading to increasingly hilarious results. Another plays out a gag at the expense of a menacing bad guy whose name isn't nearly as badass as he thinks it is.
Director James Gunn builds on the success of the first "Guardians" by continuing to play against sci-fi conventions and finding humor in the deflating of tense moments. Watch, for instance, what holds up Rocket's attempt to prep Baby Groot for a harrowing bombing mission, or wait for the little glitch that hampers the pomp and circumstance of the leader of the Sovereigns' slow advance to parlay with an enemy. On this second outing the actors have settled comfortably into their roles, with Mr. Bautista and Mr. Rooker in particular finding unexpected depths in their characters, and Ms. Gillan clearly relishing her expanded role and more detailed backstory. New characters also fit easily into this bright, bombastic universe, with Mr. Russell as a particularly standout example of spot-on casting - he really could be Mr. Pratt's dad - and Sean Gunn (Gilmore Girls, and yes, he's Mr. Gunn's brother) bringing a shabby charisma to his role as Yondu's aide de camp.
There are a lot of faces and places to keep track of here but the momentum of the story and the varying pitches of humor and heart makes for easy engagement, and it's gratifying to see the story wrap up neatly while also building in enough "teasers" to whet the appetite for the next chapter. "Guardians 2" does run a little long toward the end - you'll think the curtain call's coming, but darned if there aren't a few more loose ends to tie up, a few more explosions to ride out - but in a film that's the virtual antithesis of the "less is more" concept, that's a minor quibble. Disney and Marvel also do a wonderful job of keeping the audience glued to their seats through the entire credits, not just with the now-expected bonus scenes, but with some simple yet clever animations. Stick around: it's worth it.
"Guardians 2" repeats the original's trick of setting the tone with a plethora of late 70s classics and deep cuts, cannily employed to enhance the action without overshadowing it. There's also a full-on 80s homage at play, so viewers will have a blast watching for unexpected cameos or checking out a swirling space battle that seems lifted straight from the screen of an old Galaga console, complete with accompanying sound effects.
"Guardians 2" is rolling out in standard, 3D, and IMAX versions, so there are a few options to choose from. The IMAX 3D version we saw was a total blast, with snazzy visuals, great use of the enhanced depth of field and dramatic use of the expanded IMAX aspect ratio for about 40 minutes of the film. So if you want to see the "Big Picture" you might want to spring for the IMAX version. But any way you see it, "Guardians 2" is a hell of a ride. In fact, it might just be the best thing in the universe right now.
|Movie title||Guardians of the Galaxy 2|
|Summary||A thoroughly entertaining thrill-ride that just might be the best thing in the universe right now.|