Pimp up the ‘Volume 2‘. The ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ are back for another loud, proud but hugely fun outing to kickstart the year’s blockbusters…
Fully embracing their new status as heroes, even if it’s more a case of angels with dirty faces and sticky fingers, the ‘Guardians’ have taken on several more challenges…. saving a set of cosmic batteries from a slimy beast on behalf of a golden race known as the Sovereign, tracking down the missing Nebula (Karen Gillan) to pay for ehher Vol1 crimes and generally having a fun time.
But when Rocket decides to borrow said batteries for himself, it seems that – once again – the team may have more enemies than friends. However their resources are divided when they are saved from the verge of death by an all-powerful entity who calls himself ‘Ego’ and who reveals himself to be Peter Quill’s long-lost father.
Finally things seem to be taking a turn for the better… but that would be no fun at all, would it?
Though it won’t suit everyone’s tastes, it would – frankly – take a Grinch-sized heart not to embrace the mania and magic of the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, an unapologetic pop-culture embracing romp of a feature-film that takes every aspect of the first film and ups the stakes and in doing so pretty much sets the benchmark for the mainstream blockbusters of the summer to emulate.
The ‘human’ characters (Chris Pratt as Peter, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax, Michael Rooker as Yondu, Gillan’s Nebula with newcomers Pom Klementieff as Mantis and Kurt Russell’s Ego) all have their moment in the spotlight – not an easy achievement for a film with such a big ensemble, but it’s a skill that at which Marvel has been getting better and better. But it’s no coincidence that the film immediately puts CGI baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) front and centre. knowing full well the breakout hit they had with the taller version of the character in the first film. Equally the sardonic Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals a fair amount of the zingers for himself… though Bautista’s adroit delivery is a close contender.
Not every joke in the two hour plus film hits its mark, the first half of the film is better paced than the second half, but there’s an impressive batting average from the vast amount that are fielded. Director James Gunn clearly relishes the freedom he’s been given, but for the most part doesn’t let it go to his head and maintains a hand on the reins, just enough to keep antics from becoming too self-indulgent.
Kurt Russell’s Ego is an interesting character – the human embodiment of a living planet seeking out his offspring for a very specific reason that unfolds as the film gains momentum. The earliest scenes of the film involving Russell’s frame in the 180s are achieved by some effective make-up and CGI tweaks working not perfectly but impressively in tandem, showing just how far we’ve come from the ‘uncanny valley’ techniques.
Few films desperately need 3D – it’s still ultimately a sales gimmick – and I’ve often preferred to see the brighter hues and less indulgent aspects of a 2D version, but even opting for the 2D again this time, it’s clear to see the moments where the 3D format was engineered to provide some icing to the scene, so it’s definitely a case of seeing either version and feeling you got a good result.
In-jokes and easter-eggs are plentiful. The ‘Guardians…‘ had, from the start, a ‘Farscape on a bigger budget‘ vibe (anyone who never saw that tv show’s mix of drama, sfx and way out whimsy should seek it out) so a brief cameo by that show’s Ben Browder is a doff of the helmet to the feature film’s influences (and has been confirmed as such by Gunn). But he’s one of many – Stan Lee’s various appearances in the Marvel Universe feature films have a pay-off, a different comics version of the Guardians… gets a footnote in one of the many post-credits sequences (along with some clues for future installments and some major unexpected names shoulder-to-shoulder with Stallone).
Though essentially a nostalgia-embracing rollercoaster ride (the soundtrack, as ever, the shared backbone for much of the derring-do and anarchy) there’s genuine heart here too, sometimes coming from less obvious tangents and a death towards the end of the film packs more punch than you might have suspected.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 probably won’t – and shouldn’t – win a single Oscar, but I’ll be genuinely surprised if any of the entries in upcoming slate of big-budget features comes even close to the sheer fun factor.