Any followup project – whether it be a book, song release or movie – automatically faces a major hurdle. The excitement and joy from discovering new characters and stories that comes with an original project is gone. Just like going a second date, a followup can be as exciting but takes a little extra work.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has to deal with just such a problem. The quirky nature of the intergalactic band of goonies who took on the boisterous name of Guardians of the Galaxy made the first film a huge hit. The blend of action and humor caught a lot of moviegoers off guard.
This time, there’s no room for a sneak attack. That means that even at its best, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is very good but just doesn’t come through with the same entertaining joy as the original. It’s not that the cast and crew, especially director James Gunn, gave up trying to make the sequel better. The reality is that their overzealous efforts comes across as just trying a little too hard.
The sequel starts with the team – Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) acting as heroes for hire. Their latest job is protecting some precious batteries owned by a race who have such a high opinion of themselves, they feel their lives are too precious to waste on tasks like guarding batteries.
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Things go badly and the Guardians end up on the run. They are saved from the loss of any hope of there being a Volume 3 by a mysterious character known ad Ego (Kurt Russell). He’s more than a savior, he’s Peter’s dad and as family reunions go, this one eclipses any shouting match over a Thanksgiving dinner. But, once again, the ragtag group of misfits must come together to save the galaxy.
Gunn doesn’t miss an opportunity to make any scene or action bigger and bigger. Most of the time that works, especially with the visual elements of bringing the universe to life. There are times when he pushes too hard, including the opening sequence. Baby Groot was a hit in the closing moments of the first film. Gunn tries to capitalize on that by staging his opening fight sequence with less attention on the heroes battling a gigantic space slug and more in following the infant-like Groot getting in the way. A little bit is funny. The amount Gunn throws up is overkill.
A lot of the jokes are played the same way. The scene where Baby Groot is sent on a rescue mission goes on three or four attempts too many. It slows the pace of a movie that needs to have the same up tempo as the ‘80s soundtrack that serves as a flashback backdrop. And a speedy trip through the galaxy ends up looking like the physics-defying look of a cartoon more than existing in the Guardians world.
Gunn’s efforts to expand his Galaxy results in his superb cast being split into smaller groups such as a long sub story about Gamora and her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). They work well together but the purest part of “Galaxy” is how well all these actors work together. Once the team starts to get splintered, the dialogue ends up being not as crisp. The movie is still loaded with great jokes but they would have been better when played off the entire team.
The best thing Gunn has going for him is that even when he gets off the best beat for the movie, his cast is so talented and breathes so much life into their roles that they can cover up any small dark holes in this Galaxy. Pratt continues to prove that when it comes to heroes with a sense of humor, he’s now the standard all need to match.
Mix that with visual effects where Gunn has pumped up the volume and a must-have soundtrack and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is all it can be despite having lost the element of surprise.
Please note that as with other movies based on Marvel Comics products, the secret scene in the credits continues. Don’t be in a rush after you see one because there are actually five secret scenes. Another example of Gunn pushing extra hard to make this sequel live up to the first.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell
Director: James Gunn
Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action, language, suggestive content)
Opens: Friday, May 5