This week I saw a film about a group of people (one of whom is played by Vin Diesel) who all have different specialties that have to work together to combat an enemy that is more powerful than themselves. Along the way they will reinforce their bond as a non-traditional family and pick up some potentially new members of that family all while engaging in CG-heavy stylized action and combat interspersed with lots of humor and even more references to family. But enough about the Fast and Furious franchise! Let’s talk about Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, a film that not only out-Fast-&-Furiouses the most recent Fast and Furious film, but it’s also the Marvel movie that is the most fun and has the most heart, even if it is a tad weak on story.
The new Guardians film really is all about family. The film spends a lot of time exploring the interpersonal relationships between the different members of the group. Whether it’s Bradley Cooper’s Rocket the Raccoon and Michael Rooker’s Yondu exploring their shared penchant for self-destructive behavior, the sisterhood of Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, or the new friendship being established between Dave Bautista’s Drax and newcomer Pom Klemntieff’s Mantis, the film finds lots of time for the Guardians to pair off and have some quiet time together. The main thrust of the film finds Peter Quill (the now ubiquitous Chris Pratt) learning the identity of his father and the nature of his own existence. Kurt Russell is a pleasure, as usual, as Ego, Star-Lord’s dad. They also spend quite a bit of time together, separated from the larger group, doing father and son stuff.
The film is incredibly funny. If you’re a fan of Baby Groot’s cuteness, as I am, then you are in for a treat. This film is chock-full of Super-Cute-Baby-GrootTM. You’ve got dancing Baby Groot, happy Baby Groot, sad Baby Groot, pouty Baby Groot, and super violent Baby Groot (which is my favorite). Guardians Vol 2 is also full of the irreverent, semi-self-referential humor of the first. It gleefully breaks the rules of super hero movies while acknowledging that these rules exist. Handled by a different director this specific tone could have gotten out of control or just been completely annoying, but James Gunn (who also directed the first film) manages to balance the film on that razor’s edge. Oddly, the film gets pretty violent in a couple places. There are a couple scenes of our heroes killing literally DOZENS of people. Both of these scenes are played for laughs and one is also quite beautiful in its own way, the cinematic equivalent of watching a shark devour a sea lion in slow motion. Beautiful, but brutal. Tonally these scenes don’t hit the mark, but overall the film is successful in its execution.
Where the film falters is in the strength of its story. This was a problem the first film had. They’re both so busy cracking jokes and building towards fun moments with their characters that the story beats don’t really land as meaningfully as they should. To me it makes everything feel a bit slight, like eating cotton candy. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather this than the MEANINGFULNESS of, say, Batman vs Superman, but it is a bit of a shame that all of that great character building that happens isn’t more tightly integrated and essential to the main thrust of the actual story being told. On the other hand, as a sort of bottle episode of the ongoing TV-show-esque saga that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 does an excellent job at plunking our heroes down in a location and giving them lots of time to play off of each other and further develop their relationships while also being insanely fun and heartfelt in all the right places. The film opens everywhere Friday, May 5th.