Director: James Gunn (Slither, Super, Movie 43)
Writer: James Gunn
Producers: Kevin Feige
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 136 min.
Three years ago, The Guardians of the Galaxy was considered the first big risk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, completely removed from the rest of the Avengers on other planets with characters even avid comic book readers weren’t overly familiar with, all led by an actor who was primarily known as the chubby goofball on an NBC workplace sitcom. To the surprise of everyone, the movie became an absolute juggernaut on release, a critical and commercial smash that immediately cemented itself as one of the most beloved entries into the franchise, even considered the very best by many. The fact that it was so much weirder and very different to the rest of the MCU ended up being the thing that people loved most. With an irreverent wit, a group of anti-hero characters who hated everyone as much as they loved themselves banding together to save the galaxy, and a bright, extravagant visual palette that popped in a way that directly opposed the bland, grey tones of the rest of the MCU, the first Guardians was lightning in a bottle that would be impossible to capture twice.
So how do you follow that up? The whole idea of the first Guardians was that it was fresh and unique, but even before it came out the film already had its sequel confirmed, which gave returning writer/director James Gunn (who recently announced that he’ll also be back for the third Guardians film) a tall task. His response, as is the case with most sequels, was more more more. That word defines The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and it’s got connotations both good and bad. Guardians 2 is weirder, more energetic, more colorful, with more action and even more humor than the first. It’s also jam-packed with more characters all fighting for more screentime, more plot, more exposition, more storylines, and more dead spaces in between all of the good stuff. It’s a fun ride, immediately capturing the spirit of the first, but there’s an undeniable feeling of simply returning to the well rather than bringing the kind of refreshing verve that the first movie brought.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nice change of pace from the rest of the MCU (particularly its most recent entry, the unbelievably dull origin story Doctor Strange) but by its very nature as a sequel, it can’t pop to the full extent of its predecessor. Guardians 2 gets off to an excellent start, with an opening credits sequence that rivals the greatest of any scenes in the MCU to date. With all of the character introductions and the team established from the first movie, we’re able to slide right back into the groove of things as the returning quintet (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel) of the title immediately bring back the dysfunctional family chemistry that they formed so well three years ago. Things look like they’re setting up for an epic opening battle, the kind we’ve seen in most of the MCU movies, but right as the tension rises and their behemoth alien opposition arrives to the party, the focus instead narrows in on little Baby Groot, who kicks on the tunes and starts grooving. While the battle rages on out of focus in the background, we instead watch Groot dance around to “Mr. Blue Sky” with utter glee.
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