James Gunn is an ideas man. Fans of any of Gunn’s previous films (the first Guardians included) can attest that Gunn has one of the most original and vibrant minds in modern cinema. Never is a frame wasted. He fills each shot with masses of visual detail and mines any and all moments for their gag potential.
In the first Guardians of the Galaxy this worked so blindingly well because alongside the quick-fire jokes and bright colours there was a focused story, told in a coherent manner which allowed the audience to follow the action and be dragged merrily along in the slipstream of offbeat quips and soundtrack of jukebox classics.
This time around though, that coherence is somewhat missing. There are more plot threads to follow and more character arcs to shoehorn in. There’s still a ton of great jokes and arresting imagery, but somehow it’s all a bit messier. The scenes jump back and forth between our lead players and their various locales, and this leaves the film feeling more a string of well-constructed skits than a single body of work.
The main story thread sees Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt) finally introduced to his father (Ego the Living Planet played by the legend that is Kurt Russell). Quill is seduced by the power his father offers him, and by having his real daddy at his side. But things aren’t all as they seem, and the question of true fatherhood is what drives the film to its heart-wrenching conclusion. Gunn again hits home the message that those we choose to be closest to can sometimes be more important than blood relations.
With such lofty themes at play you may wonder whether Vol. 2 can match its predecessor in terms of humour, but rest assured it does. Dave Bautista as the far-too-literal Drax is on top form again, and manages to steal most of the scenes he’s in. There’s also a very funny and very immature running joke about a Ravager named Taser-Face, and quite possibly the best Mary Poppins gag that has ever been written. Despite any story concerns, you will definitely be laughing throughout (until the end when you’ll be reaching for the Kleenex).
Then, of course, there is Baby Groot. Yes he’s cute. Yes he’s funny. Yes he’ll make Marvel and Disney millions in merchandise sales. But more than a cash grab, he’s used thoughtfully in service of key action sequences (the opening scene’s quirky musical number/massive alien slugfest being the highlight Groot moment), and the line he treads between help and hindrance provides a great Laurel and Hardy type shtick between he and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket.
Make no mistake, you’ll have a great time with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. It entertains, it has you laughing and crying, and it has Kurt Russell. In other words it deserves your admission fee. But it never quite reaches the heady heights of the first outing.