Guardians of the Galaxy was a breath of fresh air in 2014, injecting new life into the Marvel Cinematic Universe by bringing a huge-hearted, utterly absurd comic space opera starring foul-mouthed rodents and talking trees to the big screen. The perfect mix of humor and action, Guardians of the Galaxy remains one of the best pictures Marvel has made.
Its sequel is more of the same—funny and foul and well constructed—but a bit overstuffed: a quarter-hour longer with bigger stakes and a bigger roster of guardians, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is fun, if not entirely fresh.
The film opens with a big, splashy action scene: Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Drax (Dave Bautista) are duking it out with a giant space squid that's trying to eat some batteries or something. But it's all taking place in the background; the camera's attention focuses on Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), who is in the foreground, dancing and chasing bugs and generally getting in the way, oblivious as all babies are. It's cute and funny and a little off-kilter, setting the tone for the movie that follows.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is almost perfectly constructed, the ideal version of factory action filmmaking that Marvel so excels at. We move from beat to beat—from the Guardians fleeing a gold-skinned race of perfect beings that Rocket has fleeced to meeting up with Starlord's father, Ego (Kurt Russell), to evading the wrath of Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers to dealing with Gamora's sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan)—with such ease and efficiency you rarely feel overwhelmed, even though there's a ton going on.
The only real missteps are the repetitions in backstory, as if director/cowriter James Gunn doesn't quite trust us to understand who the characters are. We hear, for instance, the sad tale of Nebula's abuse at the hands of her father, Thanos, twice: once when she's explaining to another character why she hates Gamora and then again when she's explaining to Gamora why she hates Gamora. For a movie that could have used a few nips and tucks to help out an audience willing to stay through the closing crawl for five (5) inter-credit scenes, it's a rare inefficiency.
Pratt remains as charming as ever, pairing equally well with Saldana's icy Gamora and Russell's brotastic, god-like Ego. Bautista's Drax remains one of the highlights of the whole MCU, and his burgeoning relationship with Ego's in-house empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is quite amusing. There are lots of cameos and gags and in-jokes and callbacks and it's all quite fun. (Real fun, not FUN.)
But Guardians Vol 2 is not particularly memorable, certainly not in the way that the original was. We're familiar with these characters now, well versed in their various shticks and foibles. Second verse, same as the first, in other words. But when the first verse was as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, it's hard to complain too much.