Just as the superhero genre was beginning to calcify into stoic nonsense (hello Age of Ultron) along came a band of interstellar outlaws based on a little-read comic, under the command of director James Gunn.
Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman introduced us to Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, a swashbuckling space thief who joined forces with a band of outsiders to save the universe. The bad guys were larger than life, the action was ludicrous and complemented by great casting: the wise-cracking Chris Pratt, the unexpectedly hilarious Dave Bautista and Zoe Saldana as the single-minded Gamora.
The underwhelming sequel could be seen as the inevitable result of the way the Marvel movie machine works. Part of how the Marvel Cinematic Universe distinguishes itself is by recruiting interesting independent voices as directors. The comedy team of the Russo brothers who directed the last Captain America film. Ryan Cooger went from the street-level boxing drama Creed to helm the upcoming Black Panther film. Before he landed the Guardians, director James Gunn was a scrappy horror director best known for films such as Slither.
It’s worth noting Gunn co-wrote the first Guardians film with screenwriter Nicole Perlman. For the sequel Gunn and Perlman parted ways. As a result, instead of disrupting the Marvel universe, GOTGV2 leans into the heroics, sanding down the edges of the outlaws.
Nearly every character gets a therapy session of sorts. The story revolves around Peter Quill’s daddy issues. Gamora and Nebula work out their sibling rivalry. Even Michael Rooker as Yondu, the Ravager with the killer mohawk, attempts to make amends for the past.
You can almost feel Gunn shuffling the story beats, trying to ensure every member gets a moment. But what Vol. 2 lacks is the effortless momentum that made the first film a giddy blast. The engine there was the threat posed by Ronan, the mad Kree leader. Now we trade him for a race of genetically-engineered Space Yuppies named the Sovereign who act as if life is a never-ending sorority mixer.
GOTGV2 still contains has many of the same elements for fans of the first film to savor: the classic rawk soundtrack, a forest of ‘I am Groot’ jokes and planetary landscapes inspired by Rainbow Brite. But the characters that work best this time are those Gunn left alone. Rocket Raccoon remains still a fur ball of rage and his voice is best thing Bradley Cooper has done in years. Dave Bautista’s killer comic timing as the lunkhead Drax continues and keep your eyes out for his new friend, Canadian Pom Klementieff as Mantis the empathic alien.
In the end, in place of originality, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 offers an entertaining sense of déjà vu. Worth watching while we wait for the inevitable Groot and Rocket spin-off.