By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

It doesn’t happen that often that a sequel is either as good as or is better than its first installment, but in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with James Gunn in the director’s chair, anything can happen.  One again Gunn brings his wild-eyed imagination and wicked sense of humor to an already visionary Marvel Universe and the results are pure popcorn entertainment with a lot of heart.  Vol. 2 of the Guardians saga expands on story elements introduced in the first volume and continues the heroes’ story with a tale of their own with  very few ties to other movies in the MCU.  Thankfully, Marvel Entertainement allowed Gunn and his crew to do their own thing and managed to make it fit in nicely within the whole of the universe, much like great comic book stories do.

A little bit of time has passed since the events of the first film, but in that time, the Guardians of the Galaxy have become famous for their heroics in the universe.  Their latest mission involves protecting a valuable power source from a ghastly beast which has attacked the planet of the Sovereign people.  In exchange for the successful completion of this task, Sovereign leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) offers Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister Nebula (Karen Gilan) whom the Sovereign people hold prisoner.  After the mischievous Rocket (Bradley Cooper) decides on his own to steal the batteries they were protecting, the Guardians are forced to flee the wrath of the Sovereign forces.  After narrowly escaping the Sovereign fleet, Peter (Chris Pratt) and Rocket crash land their ship and encounter a mysterious humanoid creature named Ego (Kurt Russell) who might know the truth about Peter’s father.

Based on the characters from Marvel Comics, and written and directed by James Gunn, Guardians Vol. 2 is a delightfully fun adventure, brilliantly realized by Gunn, but with much love and respect for the source material.  This time, Gunn refrains from introducing a more traditional comic book villain and makes this story and adventure more on a personal level for Peter Quill.  Throughout the character’s life, Quill has struggled without knowing his biological father, losing his mother, and adjusting to life in space after being abducted.  Gunn develops this expansion on Peter’s story with some genuinely heartfelt writing and storytelling.  That is not to say, though, that there are no fun and games whatsoever.  This is a Guardians movie after all.

Gunn brings more of the riotous humor that made the first film an absolute joy.  Though some of the gags get repeated a bit much, and a few are not quite as funny as the ones in the first film, the movie still offers a great time.  Gunn does an exceptional job of blending the humor, the heart, the emotional gravity of the story and the thrilling action so well.  In comparing the two films (Vol. 1 & Vol. 2), I feel this movie is just as good as the first one.  This one has a few different flaws involving some of the humor, but excels in its story and character development.

Thankfully, Marvel and Gunn were able to get all of their lead actors to reprise their roles, because I just cannot (and probably don’t even want to) see anyone else portraying them.  Chris Pratt brings more of that devil-may-care charm that made his audiences love Peter Quill, but also shows more dramatic range in this installment, as Peter must deal with some emotional issues regarding his parents.  Gamora, has some issues of her own, and Gunn also expands on her backstory, as well as that of her adopted sister Nebula.  Both Zoe Saldana and Karen Gilan return and deliver great performances in these roles.  Dave Bautista, once again, portrays the lovable brute Drax with much zeal and excellent comic timing.  Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel also return as buddies Rocket and Baby Groot.  Diesel doesn’t have as many, “I am Groot.” lines in the movie, but it is fun to know that he still wants to be involved.  Cooper, once again, is a riot as the bad boy, wild card, “not a raccoon.” And badass actor Michael Rooker returns as the cool and driven Yondu who is still in pursuit of Peter and the Guardians.

The awesome Kurt Russell joins the returning cast as Ego, a charming creature who promises to tell Peter the truth about his father and why he abandoned him and his mother on Earth.  Pom Klementieff wonderfully portrays Ego’s assistant Mantis, and insect-like creature who has incredible abilities to feel the emotions of other creatures.   The graceful and lovely Elizabeth Debicki is perfectly cast of the snobby and seething Ayesha.  Also new to the saga is Sylvester Stallone who stars as Ravager Stakkar Oggord, but sadly doesn’t get to do too much here.

However, perhaps Stallone will return and have more screen time in another installment for which Gunn has already signed on. So far, the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies are proof positive that Marvel can and will work with brilliant directors who want to do stories and characters that don’t quite fit the usual superhero mold.  That creativity and boldness will allow the Marvel Cinematic Universe to do more exciting movies that don’t feel too redundant or similar to others that have preceded them.  That is usually the main cause of comic book movie or superhero fatigue. As long as movie studios and filmmakers take some risks and don’t simply rely on old formulas, I will not tire of these films.


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