The new adventure with Star Lord and the gang gets the job done, providing steady laughs and a deeper emotional core.
If you had to say, what does it mean for something to be a James Gunn Film? What sort of tone does he specifically aim for that no one else captures? I’d say he manages to combine earnestness and irreverence in equal value, somehow never managing to come off too sarcastic or too maudlin. For most of the runtime of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, I sat wondering just how long he could keep this tightrope act up.
The answer, to my pleasant surprise, was pretty much for the entire runtime of the movie. Despite a few perhaps too-hokey segments, Guardians does what is becoming a very rare thing for a Marvel Studios film to do: actually develop something. One of the fun things about the first Guardians movie is how, unlike most superhero team-up movies, the superheroes here actually need to be a team. They’re misfits, weirdos and social cast-offs in a way extremely famous, handsome and rich people like Captain America or Iron Man don’t have to deal with.
What this movie does very well is take these characters and their various neuroses, advance them from the first movie, and pay them off in satisfying ways. Take Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). In the first film, he was a lonely, abandoned orphan who could only communicate his feelings through the pop culture of his youth. In Vol. 2, he does very much the same thing, only the source of his angst (mainly focused on his father and his growing feelings for Gamora) has changed.
With Gamora (Zoe Saldana), it’s her evolving relationship with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). With Drax (Dave Bautista), it’s how the pain and rage he exhibited throughout the first film have given way to something resembling happiness (Happy Drax is a good thing indeed). With Rocket and Groot, it’s a fun inversion of their brotherly relationship the first time around, and also with some general softening for Rocket, who is still a degenerate thief and all-around “professional asshole.” Baby Groot is Groot, but a Baby. He’s great. And so on, and so forth.
While orchestrating a final act where every single character has an emotional moment could be seen as grating or even cloying for some, it worked for me since most of these moments were steadily built up to over these two films, and most of them were short, powerful bursts of pathos rather than drawn out arguments or extended monologues. Not saying you can’t have that sort of thing in a superhero movie, just that it usually doesn’t work. For the most part, it does here.
With the exception of Yondu (the always very good Michael Rooker), the rest of the major players this time around are new characters, and since most of the viewing public really just has no reference point for most Cosmic Marvel stuff, I won’t go too far into particulars — suffice it to say Kurt Russell is exactly right for his role, and that role is one of the most thoroughly strange and interesting in any of these movies. Pom Klementieff also has a juicy part as Mantis, and her nice, easy chemistry with Bautista serves the film well. Sylvester Stallone’s brief appearance is memorable, thought I sincerely doubt he had any idea what he was talking about most of the time. Stallone’s character, Starhawk, was one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the 70s (as was Yondu), and their comic book history is referenced nicely in the story.
The humor in this movie, while still definitely up to Gunn’s standards, is a little broader than before, and was slightly hampered by me having to sit a few seats down from one of the worst kinds of people there are, Guy Who Laughs at Every Joke Like It’s the Funniest Thing That Has Ever Happened. The Stan Lee cameo here (which is a neat little tie-in to all his other cameos in the MCU) made this guy laugh so hard, so IMMEDIATELY, that I don’t think he even grasped what was happening on screen. Such was his desire to prove to everyone else how funny he thought it was.
As I said, I don’t really want to get into major spoiler territory for this yet, and since there isn’t a whole lot else to do plot-wise, I think the best way to go from here is to say that no matter what problems the movie might have (the reliance on chosen period music, while almost universally good, does seem a bit like something that had to happen because it happened in the first one), it is still indisputably a James Gunn film. With what’s happened to some of the other attempts by Marvel to cash in on a specific director and their specific style, that’s reassuring enough.
Now let’s please get that Starhawk movie up and running.