FILM REVIEW – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell. Written and directed by James Gunn. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content. 136 minutes.
Perhaps the most unexpected joke in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 is that it is essentially the same movie as the recent “The Fate of the Furious.” To be sure, “Guardians” has more aliens and spends less time on Earth, but both movies are about a band of misfits caught in over the top situations, stress actual and assumed family ties, and would be impossible to make without today’s menu of special effects. They even both have Kurt Russell and Vin Diesel in their casts.
After Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) doublecrosses their latest clients, the Guardians are chased through space by a fleet of drones. All seems lost until they are rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who turns out to have a special relationship to Quill (Chris Pratt). Meanwhile, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is trying to deny she has any feelings towards Quill while also dealing with her murderous sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Drax (David Bautista) is denying that he finds new arrival Mantis (Pom Klementieff)–an antennaed empath–the least bit attractive. And Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been drummed out of the Ravagers by their leader (Sylvester Stallone!). And let’s not forget adorable Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), whose single line of dialogue–“I am Groot”–is comprehended in numerous ways by the other Guardians.
In short, while there are all sorts of shout-outs to the hardcore Marvel Comics fans (including another cameo by Howard the Duck and teases about further developments in the Marvel Universe), this is a movie with heart. We come for the eye-popping visuals and the snarky humor, but we’re touched by the emotional ties of the characters, and how they connect–or fail to connect. Russell and Rooker, in particular, are standouts here, but the complicated relationship between the two sisters is played well by Saldana and Gillan. Even if you don’t have much use for most of the superhero movies (and there are lot of them coming our way), “Guardians of the Galaxy” works not because they’re brooding and angst-ridden, but because they seem to be having so much fun.
Speaking of which, besides the inevitable cameo by surviving Marvel patriarch and creator Stan Lee, one of the hallmarks of these films is the “Easter egg,” or additional scene, stuck into the closing credits that may advance the story a bit more or give as a clue what’s coming next. Well, don’t leave this one until the projector is turned off because there are no less than five such Easter eggs, plus there are a number of unexplained things in the credits themselves. Without giving anything away, the prospect of Teenage Groot may make the next film worth the price of admission all by itself.
You might not know it from the weather, but the arrival of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is the kickoff to the summer movie season. Given the news of late, a movie that’s this much giddy, goofy fun couldn’t have come at a better time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.