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'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' Film Review: Marvel kicks off the summer movie season with a big bang

May 4, 2017Ben MK

In Hollywood, sequels and franchises are often governed by the prevailing logic that if a formula works, then it bears repeating. Certainly, this much can be said of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which, up until three years ago, was predominantly concerned with telling a sprawling, interconnected narrative about a group of (mostly) human protagonists imbued with superhuman powers.

Enter 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy, a tongue-in-cheek romp that not only vaulted the MCU into the stratosphere and beyond, but also set the stage for the comic book franchise to tackle a whole new series of storylines, ranging from the submicroscopic (Ant-Man) to the supernatural (Doctor Strange). Now, writer/director James Gunn and his ragtag crew of intergalactic misfits, outcasts and miscreants are back with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. But with all the ground that's been broken by its forebears, is there any room left for this sequel to innovate?

Picking up shortly after the first movie, Vol. 2 reintroduces its main characters in the most smile-inducing way possible. A battle on the planet Sovereign pits our heroes — Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) — against an interdimensional beast. But what makes this sequence special is how it mostly relegates the action to the background, focusing instead on Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, voicing a sapling version of the Guardians' arboreal enforcer), as he boogies through the chaos to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky."

It's a fun reminder of what set the original apart from the rest of the MCU, and it segues neatly into the story proper, as the Guardians find themselves on the run from a Sovereign attack fleet, Gamora's bloodthirsty sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), in tow. A pursuit through an asteroid field ensues (no doubt inspired by The Empire Strikes Back), and soon Star-Lord (real name: Peter Quill) is face-to-face with his long-lost dad, Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who enjoys long walks on his home planet, not to mention relaxing to Looking Glass' "Brandy You're a Fine Girl."

It's worth noting that as the plot unfolds, some viewers may be perplexed by its apparent sense of aimlessness. Michael Rooker's space pirate, Yondu, returns to the fold on a redemptive bent, after being cast out by his fellow Ravagers; Sovereign leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) relentlessly pursues our motley crew, but she never feels like much of a threat; and we're introduced to an empath named Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who rivals Baby Groot for sheer adorableness. But where is the movie's Big Bad? Isn't every comic book blockbuster supposed to have one?

Needless to say, Vol. 2 does in fact culminate in yet another high-stakes battle for the fate of the galaxy. And while the path it takes to get there manages to defy expectations, it works in the film's favor, affording it the opportunity to explore relationships like the tenuous father-son dynamic between Ego and Peter, Gamora and Nebula's sibling rivalry, and the unexpected team-up of Yondu and Rocket. By the time we reach the climax, we're genuinely invested in these characters, and so the movie's action-packed finale doesn't just feel like one big VFX sizzle reel.

Of course, there's plenty of fun to be had along the way, thanks to cameos from the likes of Sylvester Stallone, pop culture references to everything from Pac-Man to Knight Rider, and an infectiously enjoyable soundtrack featuring classic tunes from Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick and more. The result is a big middle finger to the rule-of-thumb that sequel number two ought to be darker and more brooding. On the contrary, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is even more fun than the first, and it makes for an awesome way to kick-start the summer movie season.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 releases May 5th, 2017 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 16 Mins.

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