On a planetary system called The Sovereign, the Guardians of the Galaxy defend some golden batteries from a large squid monster. Upon success of this task, the golden inhabitants of the planet that houses these golden batteries pay the Guardians. They then chase them down violently when it becomes evident that one member of this indelible crew, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), stole some of these batteries for his own gain.
This long diversion about batteries aside (and, yes, batteries take up a large portion of this film’s narrative), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is about family. (And, no, this is not a review of The Fate of the Furious). More specifically, the film is about paternal relationships.
This is hinted at in the film’s cold open, where a de-aged Kurt Russell courts Star-Lord’s (Christ Pratt) mother. It comes up again when gold-plated Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) calls Quill’s DNA “a hybrid that seems particularly reckless.”
Peter Quill’s non-human father is, in fact, Ego the Living Planet (Russell). He is exactly that: a planet of his own construction. His Kurt Russell-shaped body is a form of his own construction. He is a god (with a lowercase “g,” because he has humility).
Quill’s newfound and long-awaited relationship with his father draws a line between him and his crew. At least, that is what the film proposes.
Structurally, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is all over the place when put side by side with its predecessor. The framing of the action revolving around a ragtag team coming together under a central goal, even though these characters all have different motivations toward that goal, has compelling implications. Here, the plot just falls into place as is convenient for the story to move from action scene to action scene.
There are attempts at complicating and furthering character dynamics, but these dynamics are all based on threadbare traits and tropes. Having the characters largely serve the same roles may be enough given what this sequel is, but not seeing them progress or grow beyond simple shifts makes it all feel like a rehash.
The only character that was one-dimensional in the first Guardians and gets a depth facelift here is Drax (Dave Bautista), whose enhanced humor (marked by his almost constant bellowing laugh) is concealing a character with much more to offer. Bautista does a lot of work in this film in terms of humor and character. Without him, the film would lose much of its effectiveness.
The other acting performances are serviceable. Some more than others. Cooper’s voice for Rocket has the same energy and panache as it does in the first film. Michael Rooker’s whistling Yondu gives a surprisingly heartfelt turn that sneaks up on you. Russell, while starting off the film somewhat lethargic, comes out the other side in the usual Kurt Russell way: equal parts charming, smarmy, and menacing.
The real fault-lines in the acting comes from the leads. Pratt and Zoe Saldana don’t offer much to the film, and they feel on the backburner even though they factor prominently in the main storyline. And Karen Gillan, with her rebellious sister character of Nebula, doesn’t quite rise to the occasion of what is asked of her character.
Visually, the film is good. Extreme long shots and closeups both are used for strong effect in quiet moments. Certain action sequences are directed with flair. There are some humorous visual effects. But the cartoonishness of the film’s aesthetic—while perfect for a comic book movie—does feel like an aspect that will feel dated a few years down the road.
It is with narrative that the film struggles the most. The third act is strong and energized, but it takes a long time to get there. Even with this entertaining climax, the denouement is overlong and doesn’t hit as intended.
Overall, though, the writing is just too on the nose. Superficial themes of camaraderie amongst family is told through blunt dialogue that turns a blind eye to subtext. While subtext isn’t necessarily what one expects in a superhero film, there is less nuance to the team coming together than the first film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has humor. It has comic book-style cosmic action. It even has a similar degree of heart. What it lacks is cohesion and a pacing necessary for the romp that it is trying to be.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: C+
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a fun enough time, just not as much as one might hope. (about 30% of the film’s plot is about batteries, after all. Batteries aren’t fun).
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)