Just like the rag-tag group of heroes that make up the team, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is at times loud, obnoxious and imperfect. But the tone that director James Gunn strikes in this corner of the Marvel Universe makes this franchise the best thing that the studio currently has going for it. And while this sequel may not feel as tight or original as the first film, it is a worthy follow-up that proves there is a lot more cosmic energy that can be squeezed out of this group of characters.
The film instantly puts you at ease, with a hilarious opening sequence starring the scene-stealing Baby Groot (voiced by an unrecognizable Vin Diesel), who has a dance sequence while the rest of the team battles a tentacled monster in the background. Of course Baby Groot is just one member of the team...he's joined by the group's leader, Peter Quill aka "Star-Lord" (Chris Pratt), his "unspoken" love interest Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the wise-crackin' talking racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the socially awkward muscle-bound warrior Drax (a scene-stealing Dave Bautista). The opening scene is set to Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky," which is just one of the many classic rock songs on Star-Lord's "Awesome Mix Tape 2" cassette, that supplies the film with its retro soundtrack. Don't be fooled: These nostalgic songs work to ground the movie in a reality we can relate to and is in itself a major character and ingredient to the success of this franchise.
The plot was not the best part about the first film and it isn't here either: It is a bit convoluted and implausible, but this group is so much fun to be around that you don't care. Rocket steals some important items from a "perfect" civilization that sets out to destroy the Guardians. Meanwhile, Star-Lord finally makes contact with his long-lost dad, who is revealed to be Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who hopes to team up with his son and teach him more about his origins...he is joined by a new character, the timid Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who has the ability to literally give people attitude adjustments. Then there is the gangster Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his merry band of space pirates who play a big role in ways that I won't go into here. Returning, too, is Gamora's "evil" sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who is still jealous of her sister's preferential treatment from their father, the grand-daddy villain of the Marvel Universe, Thanos.
But put all of that aside: "The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is just tons of fun. Smartly, the further the Marvel movies get into the cosmic "Infinity Gauntlet" storyline that has now been building over several films, the less serious this team takes itself. At times, "Guardians" feels almost like a satire of other Marvel films, and you get the sense that to these filmmakers, laughs are more important than plot intricacies or deep thematic statements. For example, a bad guy is introduced named "Taser Face," a name that causes everyone around him to giggle uncontrollably. The absurdity of this name is a poke at all other superheroes with ridiculous "comic book-y" names. And when a key character channels a retro, classic arcade hero during a key battle, it's done only to amuse us, not to add credibility to the battle at hand.
The sum of these ingredients - the cool music, the incredible visuals, the different personalities of the different team members - bake together to form a different flavor of super-hero movie. Sure, the first film was so well-received because of this, and by its nature, the second film isn't going to feel as fresh. And there may be a point where it gets old watching these characters interact while 70s/80s rock booms in the background. But we aren't to that point yet. In fact, they attempt to give us some character development across the board and there are even some heavy stakes and sacrifices made. It's not ground-breaking stuff, but it shows us that there is a lot more road ahead than behind, when it comes to "The Guardians of the Galaxy" series of films. Oh, and did I mention that you will absolutely fall in love with little Baby Groot? But that's a given.
It's a bit long and convoluted at times, and again, don't think too much on the plot or you'll realize the whole film could have possibly been avoided. But stay through the credits for the FIVE (yes five) different stingers to find not only a few humorous scenes, but a few incredibly important ones that may force average movie-goers to run to Google to find meaning, but that will leave comic book nerds frothing at the mouth in anticipation for what's to come.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Comedy
Run Time: 2 hours and 16 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker
Co-Written and Directed by James Gunn ("Guardians of the Galaxy," "Super," "Slither")
This movie opens everywhere Friday May 5, 2017 (check for showtimes).