By Laurie Coker
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will constantly be compared to its predecessor, but even if it stood alone, it entertains wittily and with visually stunning zeal. Writer-director James Gunn knows how to draw the finest out of his characters and make the best of his special effects. Staying for three bumpers after the final scene is worth the wait and a promise of a third installment readies fans for number 3.
In Guardians 2, all the main characters return and with the Gunn back behind the pen and the camera, the film prickles and satisfies with wild imagery, wicked wisecracking and rib-tickling banter. The first film pulled out the unexpected, a mixed box of characters, impressive CGI, a decent story and a kick-ass soundtrack and turned it into a blockbuster. The characters and the cast that play them (even voiceovers) delight audiences in the first and continue to do so in the second. It is in part because of the chemistry that Guardians 2 will find a place in blockbuster-ness, even if its returns don’t match up.
After we are introduced to Ego (Kurt Russell) and his Earth love, the story jumps 34 years and picks up as if it never stopped. With a new soundtrack (not as great as the first) playing on his Walkman, Pratt plays the perfect hero – Peter Quill, a man with a mission, a destiny and yes, a few flaws. His motley crew of super beings makes for a weird but caring family of squabbling and fervent champions. Bickering buddies, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradly Cooper, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot (three repeated words – “I am Groot.” – voiced by Vin Diesel) join forces to save themselves and the galaxy from a “god” larger and more sinister than one can imagine.
Russell is excellent as Ego, but even more impressive is the computer generated imagery used to offer up a thirty-something version of him for the film’s first sequence. Unlike Jeff Bridges in Tron or even Carrie Fisher (as young Leia) in the more recent Star Wars film, computer animators have created a near perfect, realistic rendering of the far younger Russell. If only we could turn back time like this. Michael Rooker returns as Yondu, Peter’s kidnapper, and father figure. Sylvester Stallone is on board (as Stakar Ogord) and tremendous even in the brief role. Also added to the cast is Pom Klementieff as Mantis, an antenna-sporting empath, who brings out some of the film’s more clever digs – especially when she interacts with Drax. Speaking of which, Bautista shines – Gunn gives him some hilarious zingers and his expressions are priceless. There are others new and familiar face making for engaging ensembles of good and bad guys and those in between too.
Ultimately, Guardians 2 might not, to some, be as good as the first, but Gunn manages some authentic creativity, palpable suspense, and vivid imagery as he tells his story, making it a standalone movie. Does knowing the first help? – Perhaps, but only a little. The PG-13 rating should stand as a warning, since there is death, a great deal of violence and a few scary moments in the movie. It earns a B+ in my grade book.