Sunday, May 7, 2017

Review: "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" finds heartfelt emotions

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

There are two kinds of sequel. One type of sequel does absolutely nothing except tread water. Simply making a remake of the first film. There is no expanding the mythology of the characters. There is no further character development. There is no putting characters in new, exciting, potential situations. Its easy and safe to just make the same movie over again, so sometimes that simply happens. Sometimes that formula works, lots of sequels like this made money. Heck, the "Iron Man" trilogy made a mint by simply being the same thing three times. The other type of sequel though, expands the mythology of the characters, explores their further development, and even drops them in a new situation that could have the potential to be interesting. I am happy to report that "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2" falls in the latter category.

The first "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie was fun, filled with characters we normally don't see in Marvel movies. But it adhered to the normal Marvel formula. We just saw a group of heroes that ran around space looking for a glowing doodad, because if said doodad fell into the wrong hands, bad things would happen. Lots of the Marvel films fill that synopsis, and the studio has become very rich because of it. So I was surprised as this film unfolded that it was more about exploring the characters, and expanding their stories instead of merely running around the galaxy, looking for the next death weapon. I mean, don't get me wrong. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is colorful, crazy, delirious and demented. Its got a harder edge to it compared to the other Marvel films, which should make their encounter with the Avengers even more interesting. But there is much more going on for the characters this time out, and in a sequel where seeing the same characters every two years can feel repetitive, that can be massively important.

 The film begins in the middle of a job. The guardians were hired by The Sovereign to stop a monster from eating some of their powerful batteries. The guardians get the job done, and they are given Nebula (Karen Gillen) and plan to hand her over to the Kree. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) decides to steal some of the Sovereign's powerful batteries, which triggers a mini-battle between the guardians and The Sovereign. The guardians escape, but crash land on a planet, and are welcomed by a man who helped them escape the Sovereign. This man is Ego (Kurt Russell) and he claims to be Star-Lord's (Chris Pratt) birth father. If we remember from the first film, we never met Star-Lord's birth father. We know he was abducted by Yondu (Michael Rooker) after his mother died of cancer. We learn that Ego made Yondu take Star-Lord and bring him to Ego, only Youndu used him for his own purposes. We learn that Ego has his own planet and that he's pretty much a God, Star-Lord has powers similar to his fathers and Ego wants to unlock his son's potential. While Star-Lord is happy to finally meet his father, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Ego's accomplice Mantis (Pom Klementieff) all fear for Star-Lord and perhaps there is something more sinister going on.

Meanwhile, The Sovereign approach Yondu about capturing the guardians for them. When Yondu refuses, his ravagers are taken over by Nebula, who plans to capture her sister and her friends for power. This puts Yondu in an unexpected alliance with the guardians, and while he may not be Star-Lord's birth father, Yondu pretty much raised him. That's why he constantly feels responsible for him.

The biggest theme of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2," which was quite unexpected, was the family. The need to have a family, whether they are tied by blood or not. Sometimes the blood ties may not be the best ties to make, but love those who are always watching your back. Star-Lord struggles with his newfound father, mentally confused as to why Ego would have left her. Nebula and Gamora are estranged, after years and years of competition. Rocket Raccoon wants so bad to prove that he can be as good a leader as Star-Lord can, and he can't admit to himself how much he needs this band of misfits. Gamora loves Star-Lord, but can't admit it. Drax loves Mantis, but has no idea how to flirt, he's so caught up in having that romantic connection again that he doesn't know how to react. Who would have thought in a movie about space thieves, colorful villains, and a potty-mouthed raccoon, that family would burn so bright as a theme. This is what I mean by expanding character development. The first film was all about setting these characters up, this sequel is about pushing them further as characters.

These themes affect all aspects of the film. The performance Chris Pratt delivers here is nothing like the performance he had in the last movie, and the same could be said about Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillen, Vin Diesel or Dave Bautista. These feel like complete fresh performances and it shows just how great these performances are. Michael Rooker in particular though, steals the show. One of the benefits of a sequel is that we don't have to waste time setting up characters from previous films. We know Yondu from the first film, so this sequel is all about getting us to like him more. Yondu is a complete badass in this movie, and you can tell Rooker is having the time of his life playing this character. I actually ran into Michael Rooker at Chicago Comic-Con 2014, and it was pretty clear in the brief moments I spoke with him that he truly believes in this character. He throws himself at his new material, basking in what he's been given to do. Every moment Rooker is in, he makes it his own, feeling like a complete original while he does it. Its masterful acting.

The newcomers do very good work too. Kurt Russell's performance maybe a little on the hammy side, but I think that's intentional. Its clear he likes being this villain. Sylvester Stallone appears in brief moments in this movie, and he makes his presence known in each scene. He's only in a few scenes, and I am hoping that Stallone's character work in the MCU expands, and that he really is going to be around for the long run. He's got a great character to play, and he's made it obvious that he's ready to dive into this story. Pom Klementieff fits right in with the other guardians and she gives a powerfully sincere performance. I can't wait to see more of her in the future.

There may be some pacing issues in the film. There also may be a few post and mid credit scenes too many. But they are all fun. Pay very close attention to the mid-credit scene involving The Sovereign, especially if you've been reading Marvel comics for awhile, you are going to jump for joy at the future! "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" features some small nitpicks, but its the deep family values that make this film stand out in the rest of the MCU catalog. Its still fun, and its still hilarious. This one is bigger, brighter, and edgier than the last film, but its got a heartfelt emotional punch that blindsided me. Keep an eye out for cameos by Howard The Duck, Jeff Goldblum, Ving Rhames, Michelle Yeoh and quite possibly the best Stan Lee cameo so far. But most of all, get ready because the summer movie season is in full swing.


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