Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (*****): More please

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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 – 2017

Written and Directed by James Gunn
Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

I am so happy this film didn’t stink. It could be a little bit of an overreaction to the fact that it doesn’t that I feel that Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is the best film of the year so far and right on par with the best that Marvel has released into their Cinematic Universe. It sure feels like I will be watching this film with the same zeal and exuberance I have felt watching most of the films.

First of all, the characters have developed. Sure they are antagonistic as ever to each other, but they also show the propensity for caring not many ensemble casts are talented enough to do. Most obvious here is Drax (Bautista) with his awkwardly expanding foray into the world outside of the literal. His moments are consistently fresh, for such a seemingly limited character and actor, and it is a delight to see.

Speaking of limited, Baby Groot (Diesel) is the most adorable tiny version of a character to be in a sequel since Mini-Me. Every scene he is in draws out sympathy and affection, then a punctuated laugh. My favorite moments in the movie is when Drax calls Baby Groot the “smaller, dumber version,” and when Baby Groot beats on Drax for destroying his groove.

Many of the jokes in the film (and some carrying over from the previous film) have a tremendous payoff. Rocket (Cooper) breaks new ground in his establishment of a relationship with Yondu (Rooker). It might have been nice if the Racoon had been granted one liners consistently throughout, but there were so many characters, it’s tough to choose who’d be left out.

Rooker’s Yondu gets an excellent fleshing out with way more to do this time around. Some of the moves are telegraphed, but no less enjoyable when played against the plot.

Even the burgeoning romance between Quill (Pratt) and Gamora (Saldana) is played with a self-awareness of what normally happens at this point with “TV” relationships. Turning into the skid allows a certain grace with the audience for a second film. They’d better move past it by then.

Gamora is given a more complete reprise of her relationship with her adopted sibling Nebula (Gillan). The turn they take is one more conducive to her staying within the franchise and both actresses give an emotional heft to the story that is a pleasant addition to the standard sibling stuff.

Of the new characters, Mantis (Klementieff) and Ego, the Living Planet (Russell) have the most going on. Ego claims to be Peter’s dad, and he’s charming enough to convince us of anything. The faux crisis about his worthiness as a parent is finished quickly enough to move on to more interesting things. Mantis has an interesting character that fits sublimely with the rest of the team.

If I haven’t discussed the plot, it’s because the GOTG movies don’t really need to worry about the plot as much as making sure we can appreciate the fact that the gang is back and still loveable, even if a little different from before. In developing characters, we can enjoy it more despite what it lacks.

To be fair, the plot is a wholesale improvement over what they had last time. It’s more expansive and there is a desperation that one feels for the characters if not for the situation they encounter. It also helps to know not everyone is safe. Yes, and it’s not a spoiler alert.

Pratt is more comfortable in doing less this time around. His job on the team is to play straight man to a bunch of clowns, and he accepts this job willingly. That we don’t have to negotiate his screen time or make all of his actions heroic is a huge plus. There is no other leading man in the Marvel Universe with his unforced appeal.

James Gunn took this series right where it needs to be as a placeholder while waiting for the next Avengers film. He’s taken the reigns of the stories and made the comic his own, all while staying in focus with Feige’s overall scope. He’s completely in his comfort zone, and still treating the property like it is an opportunity, rather than a burden. He is the series most effective creative force.

This film is great, even for those who will say it lacks the freshness of the original. Think to yourself, how many more times will you be seeing Bradley Cooper playing a sarcastic and violent raccoon? When will you ever see Baby Groot again?

Stop taking this marvelous thing for granted. Go watch it.

(***** out of *****)

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