There is nothing about this second film iteration of Guardians of the Galaxy that should come as a surprise to anybody familiar with the first instalment or the Marvel cinematic universe more broadly. The characters are the same – well, the good guys anyway – and the tone is in keeping with the light hearted nature of the first film. Sarcasm and witty repartee abound as the motley group of five again find themselves embroiled in all manner of mirth and mayhem. Unlike so many orgiastic CGI superhero blockbusters that take themselves too seriously, it seems the intent here is to simply be as entertaining as possible and writer/director James Gunn has not only created a whimsical world that delivers in the action stakes, but he also goes out of his way to make us care about a group of characters who are, on the surface at least, a pretty selfish bunch.
The film opens with a spectacular, and no doubt expensive, credits sequence that sees an elaborate battle unfolding in the background as the camera tracks Baby Groot dancing to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. Seemingly oblivious to the other characters being thrashed, flung and generally debased at the hands of a giant lizard-like adversary, Groot dances and prances in what is perhaps the only moment in the entire film where he doesn’t present as utterly annoying, although the initial appeal of this scene lessens after a while. The Groot character is all but superfluous in everything that goes on, other than a moment when his diminutive size proves useful and there are many times when I found myself wishing with every fibre of my being that death would become him but, this is a superhero film and we all know that superheroes never die, so I guess we are stuck with him for at least one more film (Gunn has declared that a third instalment will be the last, but it is hard to imagine the studio pulling up stumps if the money keeps rolling in).
On a job for the Sovereign race, who are led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), Peter Quill/Star Lord, (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) have agreed to defend a valuable collection of batteries from a predator known as Abilisk in exchange for the release from prison of Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). The mission seemingly goes off without a hitch, until Rocket reveals he has stolen some of the batteries on the way out, putting the Guardians in the sights of Ayesha and her golden army. Whilst hiding out from Ayesha, Peter encounters his dad – a Celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell) – for the first time and inevitably finds himself torn between his biological father and the makeshift family he has formed with his fellow Guardians. Michael Rooker also turns up as Yondu, the blue-skinned Ravager who raised Peter but now finds himself in exile. Pratt, Saldana and Bautista slip easily into the characters once again, but is the latter who brings most of the levity to proceedings as Drax, the monotone man-mountain whose complete lack of a social filter makes for very some very blunt, and quite humorous, interactions. Russell is fine as a character whose proportion is beyond anything you can imagine, with Rooker and Gillan also particularly good in supporting roles. In fact, Nebula is perhaps the most interesting character of all and Gillan mines the emotional fragility beneath her cyborg-like exterior to great effect.
Some of the jokes wear thin upon repetition – such as Rocket trying to wink – and the movie runs far longer than it needs to, suggesting that perhaps Gunn and his editors succumbed to the pressure of the Marvel powers-that-be to wring every inch of action out of the scenario. Whilst there is an emotional spine to the proceedings that superhero films generally lack, Gunn is a little heavy-handed in beating the family drum, trying to force an emotional investment in the characters when he doesn’t need to because the camaraderie of the group is well established from the first film. To Gunn’s credit though it feels as though each member of the Guardians is more developed this time around, rather than simply having Pratt at the centre of all the action. Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is a sequel that effectively draws on the elements that made the first film so successful but still emerges as an entertaining romp in its own right, although the less said about Sylvester Stallone’s laughable cameo the better.