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Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 - Review

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

JAMES Gunn may have struck cinematic gold when he delivered the first Guardians of the Galaxy to ecstatic reviews and fan adulation three years ago but repeating the trick was always going to be a difficult one to pull off.

And so it proves as Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 emerges as a fun romp that still suffers from many of the pitfalls of franchise filmmaking.

On the one hand, it’s great to be reunited with this amiable superhero bunch, especially Baby Groot, given that Gunn’s subversive sense of humour, coupled with their obvious camaraderie, remains intact. But it’s disappointing to find Gunn pandering to convention at other times, especially during the super-sized third act that feels more derivative of some of the worst blockbuster traits.

The story, for all its grand ideology, also boils down to being paper thin, while Gunn also sometimes gets the mix of drama and comedy wrong, thereby undermining some of the more serious stuff he tentatively sets into motion.

The film is arguably at its best during the first hour, with Gunn’s penchant for surprising evident in the way that he stages the Guardians’ first battle against a giant space monster from the perspective of a dancing baby Groot rather than the main action itself. It creates much hilarity, while cleverly self-referencing the deliriously feel-good ending of the first movie.

But it also serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story, as having helped protect an alien race known as The Sovereign from the aforementioned space beast, they promptly find themselves at odds with them and being chased across the galaxy.

Coming to their rescue, however, is a character named Ego (played by Kurt Russell), a ‘Living Planet’ that can take the form of man, who claims to be the long-lost father of main hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Ego quickly splits the group and whisks some of them off to his planet, in an attempt to make up for lost time with his son so that he can also lay out his master-plan for interplanetary domination.

It’s left to the rest of the Guardians to either attempt to figure out what Ego really wants or to evade everyone else on their trail, which further extends to the Ravagers, a rag-tag group of biker-style pirates led by the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker, also returning from the first film).

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

As complex as all this sounds, Gunn never really allows the film to stand still long enough to really examine the possibilities, opting instead for gags, cameos, soundtrack moments, visual flair and decades-spanning pop culture references. It’s a move that keeps things bright and breezy, while only flirting with any real emotional complexity.

True, Gunn does still manage to deliver a couple of scenes that are genuinely poignant, while his actors work over-time to seize any opportunity to act (the scenes between Pratt and Russell are especially effective). But the bigger emphasis here is on spectacle and fun.

As with the first film, Gunn’s ear for a cool tune infuses the film with an undeniable energy, while enhancing some of the big set pieces with an huge amount of cool. While his ability to subvert expectation with some abstract comedy also remains intact (making inspired use of anyone from David Hasselhoff to Pac-Man).

But by also having to pay lip service to that previously mentioned blockbuster convention, Gunn does forgo some of the film’s ingenuity and its identity. The climactic tussle, while intermittently inspired, also feels over-extended and unnecessarily big in a way that even draws unfortunate comparisons with blockbuster duds such as The Matrix Revolutions and Batman V Superman. It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one almighty smack-down, you’ve pretty much seen them all… no matter what kind of curve-ball Gunn randomly tosses in.

If you can lower expectation and accept that this sequel lacks the freshness of the original, then Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 still offers a tremendously good time that’s all but guaranteed to leave big, soppy grins on the faces of those who sign up for the ride. It’s a very good sequel that can’t quite recapture the greatness of its breath of fresh air predecessor.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 138mins
UK Release Date: April 28, 2017