"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" (2017) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 137 minutes
Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), and Kurt Russell
Review by JJ Mortimer
Despite its length and wealth of characters to follow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 manages to be more entertaining, humorous, and surprisingly emotional than its predecessor, even while managing to be a more character-driven motion picture.
This movie impressed me. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 improves upon the "group of wacky sci-fi outcasts" by adding pleasant, continuous humor, and a surprisingly-dramatic edge. Of the films in the Marvel Studios/Avengers canon, I can't think of a single one of those films that emotionally touched me the way this film did by its conclusion.
I'm not afraid to admit, I actually had to hold back a few tears in the last twenty minutes of this film.
THAT'S the most impressive part of this film - the fact that the producers were smart enough to allow writer/director James Gunn more control over his film, a move that resulted in highly entertaining film with numerous characters (ones that we already even know) getting full-fledged dramatic arcs in the course of a plot that felt FAR shorter than any of the drab, dreary films DC has been producing.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 easily has the most heart of any comic book movie produced since 2008s flagship Iron Man. Here's a film that doesn't preside over some complex plot line or forced conflict, and instead spreads its fantasitical wings and allows comedy to ooze from its pores. The main plot course involves Peter Quill, aka "Star Lord" (Chris Pratt), finding out the truth of his heritage, but any more description of "story" ends there. All that needs to be known (and most of what will be remembered for days after watching the film, should you actually enjoy it) is that not a single scene is wasted, laughs are a plenty, and even some of the slower moments are just beautiful to look at.
Speaking of beautiful, this film is one of the first CGI-infested films where the visual effects did much service to my enjoyment of the film. Here's a perfect situation where CGI was not only needed but used REALLY well, and in fact resulted in a few scenes that were so colorful, well-photographed, and creative that the visual effects did the film a real justice in a way that didn't feel lazy. A few shots, especially one involving Yondu's glowing red arrow tracing through the air as it pierces enemies in the dark, all while being mixed with 70s music hits, resulted in a truly creative treat to be seen and heard on the big screen.
Of the main characters, the two that really stood out for me are Dave Bautista as "Drax the Destroyer" and Michael Rooker as "Yondu." While nearly every character had a line or two that made me laugh or smirk, any moment Bautista was on screen put a huge smile on my face. I counted a dozen times where a line he spoke in his character's matter-of-fact delivery made me laugh louder than anyone sitting around me in the theater. I didn't give a shit if I was loud - writer/director James Gunn took the risk of amping up Bautista's comic ability, and by some stroke of good luck found that perfect measure of utilizing an actor's comedic timing without it overstaying its welcome, and I wanted everyone around me to hear my appreciation for it.
Michael Rooker as Yondu, on the other hand, is given more screen time in this sequel, and his presence results in the best and most fulfilling of the main character story arcs. And all that can be said about Baby Groot is that he may very well be one of the damned cutest characters in film history with such an innocent stare that could make a lumberjack weep. I just find it ironic that they found one of the most wooden actors working in Hollywood to play a talking tree.
If I could find any negatives about the film, I would be strained to do so. What I could say is that of the main characters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her relationship with her estranged villain of a sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) is the least amusing of all the character stories in the film, but that's not to say it's bad. Just in a film so loaded with humor, their story supplied a little more immediacy and tension, which resulted in moments that were less amusing than the more wacky nature of the other characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy is comically the funniest of all the Marvel films, with Dave Bautista's Drax getting the majority of the laugh-out-loud moments (probably more than all the other characters combined). There are themes of estranged relationships strung throughout the film (sister and sister, father and son, father-figure/guardian and "son") that help elevate and drive the characters to a conclusion that is surprisingly emotional and tear-jerking. The film builds upon its already-established half dozen-or-so characters with humorous explosion, in cases when most other films would have trouble establishing a satisfying arc for simply one.
This Guardians sequel also has an easily-distinguishable villain with a purpose that adds backbone to how the streamlined themes keep purpose throughout the film's narrative. The film is perfectly cast (a running commendation to the Marvel films) with numerous cameos and and one truly inspired veteran choice with Kurt Russell, the 70s music in Peter Quill's "Vol. 2" mix tape is perfectly used (especially with the usage of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain"), and the movie is colorful and beautiful to look at through some of the most well-executed fantasy/sci-fi visual effects ever put to screen (despite visual effects artists' continuing inability to fully understand the physics of bodily movement and gravity with falling and jumping characters), and well-blocked cinematography from Henry Braham.
Director James Gunn has hit a homerun with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and truly gives the audience enough amusement to make a $20 ticket seem well-spent. Just stay for the entire credits, because there are multiple scenes after the end of the initial film.