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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Review:

This sequel to the vastly popular Marvel adaptation Guardians of the Galaxy starts with our heroes battling a huge Cthulhu-style monster on behalf of a gold-coloured alien race known as The Sovereigns. However, on leaving their planet they suddenly find themselves pursued by a battalion of their interceptor ships; it turns out that the raccoon-like Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) has stolen some batteries from them. The Guardians make their escape through an asteroid field. While they seemingly quickly lose their pursuers, once they exit the field at the other end they discover that many more Sovereign craft are waiting for them at the other end. In the nick of time they are rescued when the weapons of a mysterious nearby ship fire upon the battalion, destroying them all in one fell swoop.

The Guardians crash-land on a nearby planet, and shortly afterwards the mysterious ship touches down nearby so that the occupants can greet them. One is Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an antenna-headed woman with empathic abilities. The other is Ego (Kurt Russell), a man who turns out to be the father of Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Meanwhile, while the Guardians bond with these two additions to their “family”, The Sovereigns, led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), are continuing their pursuit. They hire Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker) to hunt down and capture Rocket.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the most enjoyable big-budget blockbusters of recent years: combining memorable characters, an engaging story, imaginative special effects and plenty of laughs, it came pretty close to space opera perfection. In many ways Marvel have been left with a Herculean task in providing a sequel that captures what was so great in the predecessor, as well as taking the story in a new direction. Unfortunately the results, while often entertaining and inventive, do fall rather short of perfection.

One of the main issues here is that the story feels rather disjointed. In the original the main characters were thrust together on a huge adventure, united against a major threat. While the character relationships were an important and undeniable part of the film, it maintained plenty of forward momentum thanks to its central quest. In this sequel, soon after Star-Lord meets Ego the film splits the characters up into pairs/trios and jumps between their individual story threads, exploring how each set develops within their own individual situations. The problems with this are threefold: firstly, there’s no obvious, unifying central plot until one is thrown in during the third act, and as a result the film lacks impetus. Secondly, some sets of characters are more entertaining to watch than others, and when the less entertaining ones are on screen the time drags. Thirdly, Star-Lord/Peter Quill, despite gaining a few important character revelations during the course of the film, is a dispiritingly passive character for most of its runtime - further robbing the film of an effective core.

The other main issue is that too many aspects of this sequel tend towards excess. While the original was heavy on action, special effects and humour, they were still well-pitched within the framework of the story. Here it feels like these aspects have been given creative free rein to the point where, at times, they just feel overdone and gratuitous. For instance, there’s an ongoing comedic sequence where Rocket asks Baby Groot to find a specific device that will allow him plus another character to be freed from a holding cell. Groot brings back the wrong item again and again, and the joke is stretched well beyond breaking point. The scene where Ego introduces Star-Lord plus a few other Guardians to his home world takes in a beautifully tranquil CGI landscape, but over-stretches its length to the point where it drags down the film’s pace. The obligatory action-packed climax is such an overblown blur of space battles, characters flying through the air, huge explosions and glowing monstrosities that it’s hard to decipher exactly what’s going on. It feels like Michael Bay has come in and performed some uncredited directorial work here.

On the other hand there’s enough good stuff here to offset sitting through the bad. The film feels like a huge, unsifted creative brainstorming session amongst Marvel’s finest talents, and as such there are some moments of genuine genius. The sequences where The Sovereigns pilot their space fleets via a huge room filled with video game-style consoles are a neat touch for anyone who wonders why more high-tech races don’t control their military craft remotely, instead of risking the lives of their people, as they tend to do in other movies of this type (e.g. the Star Wars movies). Baby Groot is as charming as his appearances in the trailers suggested. Rocket is as hilariously sociopathic as he was in the original. Mantis is also a sweetly coy addition, and her scenes with the incredibly extroverted Drax (Dave Bautista) are quite witty and intelligent as they discuss what constitutes beauty from differing alien perspectives - a subject that, to my knowledge, has never been wholeheartedly broached in a movie before. The Ravagers, given more detail and characterisation this time around, are a lively motley crew whose values veer from the heights of honour to the depths of subterfuge throughout the course of the film.

The best individual moments actually take place during the opening and closing credits. During the former, a vast battle with the multi-tentacled monster (previously glimpsed in the trailers) takes place largely in the blurred background - an effective use of restrained filming that the rest of the movie could have done with a bit more of. The latter features five “bonus” scenes - all of which point tantalisingly at the possibilities of a further sequel - plus a few amusing visual Easter eggs. Unlike the rest of the film, these seem to have been crafted as smart, self-contained pieces rather than resorting to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the viewer.

Runtime: 136 mins

Dir: James Gunn

Script: James Gunn, based on a Marvel comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, David Hasselhoff

Rating: ☆☆☆

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