Thursday, May 4, 2017

Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” picks up pretty much where the 2014 hit left off, with an unlikely band of miscreants anointed as saviors of the cosmos. And it also continues its stride as a full-out comedy take on the superhero genre, though the sequel has a surprising amount of character development and even a few touchy-feely moments.

It’s not quite the non-stop laugh-a-thon of the first one, but the characters feel deeper, richer and more lived in.

For instance, I didn’t much care for Drax, the musclebound marauder played by Dave Bautista in the first movie. But here his penchant for saying exactly what’s inside his head, without filter or regard of others’ feelings, seems less like a set-up for jokes than an intrinsic part of his makeup. It’s almost like he’s on the autism spectrum.

Drax doesn’t really understand the subtler aspects of behavior, but he’s trying.

The movie (written and directed by James Gunn) again centers on Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, a smirky galactic adventurer played by Chris Pratt. As we know from the last movie, he was abducted from Earth as a child, became part of a crew of space pirates led by the blue-skinned, red-mohawked Yondu (Michael Rooker), and then broke off for his own solo spree of stealing and fun.

Sporting a slightly shellacked look to his hair and skin, Peter has all but given up on searching for his father, who abandoned the family when he was still a boy, reputedly returning to the stars whence he came. Kurt Russell turns up as Ego, a strangely charismatic being who claims to be his dad. Peter’s not entirely convinced, so Ego brings him and the Guardians back to his home planet for a little convincing.

It came at just the right time, as the Guardians had just majorly P.O.’d the Sovereign, a race of gold-skinned beings for whom they’d performed some mercenary work. (Hey, being a savior doesn’t pay much.) Of course, afterward Rocket -- the irascible raccoon-like creature voiced by Bradley Cooper -- decided to steal some of their fancy gizmos for fun, so the goldies were in hot pursuit before Ego came to the rescue.

Zoe Saldana returns as Gamora, a green-skinned assassin who continually resists Peter’s attempts to woo her. I liked that even though his intentions become entirely made clear -- in a rather funny and embarrassing way -- Gamora doesn’t automatically fall into his arms. She’s a tough nut, and harder to crack.

Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), also shows up, a partially robotic creature with a hell-bent desire to kill her sibling, and then their father.

And, of course there’s Groot, the tree-like creature who was killed in the last movie, only to be reborn as a tiny shoot. He’s essentially having to restart his life cycle all over again, so he’s in the adorable toddler phase. He’s not terribly useful in this form, and doesn’t seem to have regained his full cognitive abilities, which is a hindrance when trying to remember which button causes instant death for everyone.

Also new are Pom Klementieff as Mantis, an odd empathic creature raised in servitude to Ego, and Sylvester Stallone as an elder pirate who has to kick Yondu out of the pirate club, or something. We get the sense they’ll play bigger roles in the third movie.

And yes, there will be a third movie: it’s announced at the start of the end credits. Speaking of which, “GotG2” sets some sort of record for most bonus scenes. I think it was five, but I may have lost count.

It’s not as fresh or funny as its predecessor, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” is still a lot of fun. They seem to have consciously sacrificed some laughs in order to flesh out this universe and make it seem more authentic and grounded. That may sound funny given all the crazy makeup and CGI to depict a kaleidoscope of fantastical aliens, but there it is.

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