By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
It was just about three years ago when Marvel dipped a little further into the library to expand its cinematic universe beyond its most well-known characters.
That calculated risk, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” gave the studio another critical success and box office smash, raking in more than $750 million worldwide. More importantly, however, it proved that movie-goers had bought into the MCU enough to make lesser-known properties viable at the box office.
The downside is that while expectations weren’t sky high for “Guardians,” its success virtually guarantees that any subsequent film in the series will not be afforded the same luxury.
Fortunately, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” pretty much lives up to those expectations, while falling just a little short of its predecessor.
After saving the galaxy the last time out, the Guardians – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) – have now become essentially guardians for hire, protecting individual planets and their residents from dangers (that aren’t a concern to every other planet). This time out they’re protecting batteries from a thieving alien creature for the Sovereign people.
Their reward – Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who was imprisoned by the Sovereign leader for trying to steal the aforementioned batteries.
After some shenanigans from Rocket lead the Guardians into a high-speed space chase (and subsequent crash) with the Sovereign, they encounter the mysterious Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Star-Lord/Peter’s biological father.
After much discussion, Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax accompany Ego back to his planet, while Groot, Rocket and Nebula remain behind to fix the ship. While the former group must figure out if Ego is legit and what his intentions are, the latter has to deal with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his ship of outlaws.
In terms of story, there’s a lot going on here, but because it doesn’t delve too deep into any of them, it remains easy to follow. It hops around quite a bit and it – unsurprisingly – doesn’t ever allow itself to get too serious, even during the brief moments where it tries to get a little bit serious. In this case that’s a good thing, as the thing that separates “Guardians” from the rest of the Marvel fare is that it’s sillier and more lighthearted … I mean, they’ve got a talking tree and a talking raccoon.
My one complaint is that it does go after the low-hanging fruit a little too often when searching for its laughs – some toilet humor, a little too much Groot dancing, etc. But that complaint is very minor and not at all unexpected.
I won’t go into acting, because these films really aren’t the vehicle for outstanding individual performances. I will say, however, that I grow more impressed with Bautista every time I see him. I don’t think for one second that we have another Dwayne Johnson on our hands, but he does have a sense of comedic timing and he certainly looks the part of a comic book character.
But the real driving force behind “Vol. 2” is the visual effects – the scenery, Ego’s planet in particular, is incredible to look at; there’s a ton of fun action scenes; Baby Groot is pretty adorable (despite the overabundance of dancing); and, fortunately, they didn’t try to do too much with the 3D and allowed it to add to the overall product, rather than trying to make it the star of the show.
All of those things add up to a solid second film in the series, which isn’t always an easy task … I’m looking at you, “Iron Man 2.” It isn’t the quite on par with the first installment, but I’ll definitely say that “Vol. 2” is a must-see for all Marvel fans.
★★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.