2017 – USA
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff
Words: Nathan Scatcherd
Originally conceived as Marvel’s intergalactic ‘B team’, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be one of the most popular films the studio has put out so far in its – by now – almost reassuringly predictable conveyor belt run of solid, flashy superhero movies. With the Marvel cinematic universe’s… well… universe nicely mapped out now, GoTG 2 dispenses with the Infinity Stones, allows itself to get a little weirder and carves out more of an identity for its band of roguish heroes than simply ‘The Avengers in space’.
The majority of the plot is, as with most of these movies, fairly inconsequential; basically the important thing to know is that Kurt Russell is playing Ego; essentially a living planet, and – duh duh DUH – Star Lord (Pratt)’s father. Yondu (Rooker) pops up again, as does Nebula (Gillan) and, happily, both are given slightly more to do this time around. Rooker in particular gets a couple of big moments, and is characteristically effective; gruff yet honourable, with a heart of gold and a snazzy new Mohawk head-fin. New character Mantis (Klementieff), an empath who can experience the emotions of those she touches, is likeable but feels extraneous; she essentially has one function in the film, which she fulfils right towards the end of the movie, the rest of the time playing off Drax (Dave Bautista), as the two guileless, very literally minded characters develop a strangely endearing friendship.
GoTG 2 mostly coasts on the charisma of its cast, although it has a more solidly emotional centre than the mawkish first film. It’s still prone to moments of sickly sentimentality (some of the dialogue is real Hallmark greetings cards bullshit), but the estranged father/son relationship between Star Lord and Ego is quite effective. Pratt and Russell play it with just the right balance of warmth and mistrust – as well as a lot of charm, obviously – although there is an unavoidable sense that their potentially very interesting relationship is rushed through so we can keep up with the rest of the characters and tick off the story beats leading to an inevitable ‘boss fight’ at the film’s climax.
In fact, the film as a whole suffers from some wonky pacing. The first half of the film revels in the ‘casual hangout vibe’ that GoTG has become known for, and so when the second half kicks off a series of action sequences, returning characters and emotional confrontations – wherein our characters whisper and shout monologues at each other about Who They Are And How They Came To Be – it can feel vaguely exhausting (there is a lot of this latter point by the way… almost everybody gets to take a minute out to explain their motivations and personalities to the camera as much as to other characters).
Still, as far as irreverent, bubblegum space operas go, GoTG 2 is decent rainy-day fun, expanding on its predecessor nicely by showing a weirder* and more emotionally engaging side of the MCU’s intergalactic setting. It may feel strangely lackadaisical when it should be running in high gear (and vice versa), but it shows a smart step in the right direction; further into the strange and unwieldy corners of the Marvel universe, away from the more traditional action beats more than satisfied in other, Earth-bound Marvel movies. The more this franchise allows itself to lean into the genuinely cosmic as opposed to more standard, codified story beats and characters simply wrapped in sci-fi dressing, the more distinct and worthwhile it will become.
*The mere concept of Ego (a character first appearing in Thor in 1966) is more interesting and ‘out there’ than anything in the first movie, which prided itself to irritation on being ‘totally weird and rad, yo!’, and yet played pretty much as, to use my snarky phrase from the beginning of this review, ‘The Avengers in space’.