In the Far Reaches of Space, Marvel’s Galactic Mavericks Return

Review of Guardians of the Galaxy

BY VINCENT ABBATECOLA

Almost three years ago, director James Gunn gave us a refreshing dose of weirdness to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his superhero space adventure, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which was based on the Marvel Comics by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and it won us over with its fun characters, fast-paced story, and irreverent humor.

Gunn now returns to bring us “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Although it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original, it benefits from one of Marvel’s strongest ensembles to date, deeper emotions, and beautiful visuals.

Since we last saw them, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), have been respected and known as Guardians of the Galaxy. At the start of their latest adventure, they are given a task by an alien race, known as the Sovereign, to protect valuable batteries from a galactic monster.

When Rocket steals some of them, the Sovereign hires a group of Ravagers, led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), to track them down. After the heroes crash-land on a distant planet during their getaway, they are met by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Star-Lord’s father. While the team hides out from the Ravagers, Star-Lord will come to know his father and the truth behind his parentage.

Although it’s difficult to go into detail about the performances because there is a risk of spoilers, what I can say is that the film succeeds in evolving many of the central characters from the original. While they have the same qualities that made them so much fun to watch in the first film, most of them are given deeper emotional dynamics that are shared between each other, and this especially effects Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, and Yondu, the latter of whom is given an unexpectedly emotional arc in which Rooker’s handling of the role practically makes him the MVP of the film.

And Kurt Russell, as the best new character of the film, offers a very enjoyable and charismatic performance as Star-Lord’s father. As far as Baby Groot goes, I was worried he would be overused in the film as nothing more than a merchandising opportunity (he’s the main focus of the opening-credits sequence), his character is used sparingly, giving us just enough to make us laugh, but not overdoing it and shifting focus away from anything else.

While the general plot of the film is a bit simplistic, Gunn’s screenplay more than makes up for that by having his narrative much more character-driven. Because of this, the film becomes surprisingly and refreshingly emotional at times, but for reasons I won’t disclose.

Another aspect of the script to admire is how it restrains itself from including too many connections to other MCU films, unlike many previous installments.  Besides a passing mention of an Infinity Stone or Thanos, the overarching villain of the MCU, this movie has a story that’s more self-contained, one that sticks to the story at hand, instead of focusing on setting up future movies.

Although Gunn does a fine job at handling the comedic aspects of the story, one thing with which he could do a little a less are the ‘80s references. Yes, some of them are funny, but when there are too many, it becomes a bit lazy. These are funny characters in this movie, and they can do well with making you laugh without constant pop-culture remarks.

As a director, Gunn offers, vibrant, colorful, and inventive visuals and isn’t afraid to make them go a little weird from time to time, but thankfully, he doesn’t make this sequel his mission do outdo the original.  While this sequel offers some great action, it never feels like it’s trying to give you more for the sake of it, which is a welcome change of pace, and Gunn seems to spend as much time developing characters as he does with crafting the gorgeous visuals. Because of this, Gunn finds a balance between the spectacle and drama and is able to have the movie take a break from the MCU formula that we have seen in some of their other films.

Gunn has already signed on to write and direct “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” and seeing as he’s delivered two epic space adventures that have distinguished themselves from other Marvel movies, I think it’s safe to say he will succeed in doing so again the third time around.  While the next time we see these characters will be in “Avengers: Infinity War” next May, I’m looking forward to seeing them again in their own world, under the directorial guidance of Gunn.

Although the MCU blueprints don’t tend to change much between films, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” shows that Marvel can still offer surprises us from time to time.

Final Grade: B+