Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable
The sequel to any great film comes with some inherent challenges. The biggest is that it often suffers by comparison to the original. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. is no exception.
The original Guardians was like a bolt out of the blue, both at the same time original and nostalgic. And Vol. 2 is enjoyable inasmuch as it gives you more of the same but it also makes it feel not nearly as fresh.
The story takes place soon after the original ended. Peter "Starlord" Quill (Chris Pratt) is leading the Guardians: Assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), literalist brute Drax (Dave Bautista), cynical and sarcastic Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). The movie wisely thrusts you right into the action. The Guardians a race called the Sovereign, but they quickly run afoul of them and are once again on the run. Circumstances force them to split apart when they encounter Peter's long lost father Ego (played by the mighty Kurt Russell). I won't reveal much about Ego in this review for fear of spoiling the very interesting surprises as the movie unfolds. Along the way Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers are brought in to play as well as Gamora's adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Ego's innocent assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff) until it all converges into a big cosmic battle.
The good thing about Vol 2 is that if you liked the characters in the original you get to spend more time with them again. And they are just as charming as ever. In fact, this second outing is aimed at delving deeper into their characters and their relationships to each other. This allows for some of that fantastic chemistry to come to the forefront, like the romantic tension between Peter and Gamora or the fraternal antagonism between Rocket and Drax. It is wonderful that these characters have very clear relationships to each other that are worth exploring. The biggest surprise for me was the layers that they gave to Yondu, who in most films would be reduced to space-redneck. Instead, director James Gunn peals back the layers to see the good and not-so-good lurking beneath.
Visually, the movie is spectacular. You can tell that no expense was spared making the movie pop in both the CGI and makeup effects. The Sovereign look particularly fascinating with their lavish yet cold culture. The action is dynamic and sufficiently epic.
The movie also continues with its trademark humor, some of which will stay with you much longer after the movie is over. There is a particularly fantastic running joke about a mutineer leader that I still quote more than a month after seeing the film. And there a sequence where Baby Groot is attempting to break some of his compatriots out a jail cell that is one hilarious visual gag after another.
And the actors have not lost a step. Pratt is as charming and affable as ever while adding the emotional layers in the meeting with his father. Saldana also reaches some very interesting emotional places with with Gillan and their sibling rivalry to the Nth degree. Bautista's chemistry with Klementieff is also one of the nicest and well-handled parts of the film. It seems like a very simplistic relationship, but there is a lot going on under the surface of the performances. The scene where Mantis touches Drax as he remembers his family is particularly and unexpectedly moving. Russell is also a great addition to this group. He fits in perfectly with the personality and aesthetic of the cast and you can feel the believable father/son connection to Pratt. But once again it is Rooker who is the biggest surprise. He loses none of his deadly edge while making us sympathize with him and his repressed emotional state.
As much as there is to enjoy, this movie does have its flaws.
The main problem is that it is way too violent. I don't just mean that more people die, but that is also true. In this movie the heroes engage in some pretty violent killing. Early on as they are chased by the Sovereign, Rocket tries to kill the soldiers following them. However Peter stops them pointing out that those soldiers don't deserve to die. I wish that this sentiment had remained throughout. Two scenes in particular were bothersome. The first is when a number of people are execute by being thrown out an airlock. I tend not to have a big problem with killing in movies, but when people beg for their lives, it makes my stomach turn. After that discomfort, our heroes go on a killing spree against the murderers. As visual spectacle, this scene is one of the best in the movie. And as someone who loves movies like John Wick, this normally wouldn't be a problem for me. Except that super heroes are supposed to live up to a higher moral standard and this movie was directly marketed to children. I would be very squeamish if I brought any little ones to the theater. This includes several sexual jokes and references that seemed very out of place. Again, the movie is PG-13, but it realistically marketed to a much younger audience.
The other drawback is hard to avoid, which is that it feels a bit pandering to fans of the original. This is especially evident when Rocket asks to play some of Peter's Awesome Mix while he goes on a killing spree. It was as if they were trying to repeat the success of the original by continually mixing in the original ingredients.
Despite this, the themes of family, care, and compassion were very evident throughout. One of the marks of family is that family forgives and we see that in the Guardians and how they hurt each other and try to reconcile. And all of the characters have pronounced abandonment issues. This is especially evident in Peter's and Rocket's story arcs. This can lead to too hasty attachment or in driving people away as a defense mechanism. Either way it was satisfying to see how these relationship stresses played out against the backdrop of a cosmic struggle.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a little too dark and a little too much of a retreat of the original to be as good as Vol. 1.
But that doesn't mean it isn't a heck of an enjoyable film.
4 out of 5 stars.