Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - More of the same from Marvel
Ego has landed but 'Guardians' sequel rehashes old ground and lacks focus
Charm is a quality sadly lacking in most modern superhero films, which tend to be smug and bloated and have inflated ideas about their imaginary cultural significance. But Guardians of the Galaxy was like a tonic for film-goers left queasy by the staggering self-importance of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy. Based, inevitably, on a Marvel comic, Guardians swaggered into cinemas in the summer of 2014 offering a genuinely witty take on both the space opera and superhero genres. And Chris Pratt, who played the lead character, has proved a real find.
Before this he'd been a regular on the sitcom Parks and Recreation and had played chubby foils in romantic comedies, but Guardians offered a slimmed down Pratt the chance to play a wise-cracking hero. His character, Peter Quill, whom he succinctly described as a cross between Han Solo and Marty McFly, had been abducted from Earth in 1988 by alien smugglers, and grown up to be a kind of space pirate.
His most prized possession was a Walkman loaded with a cassette bearing the title 'Awesome Mix Vol. 1' and packed with some of the cheesiest tunes the 1970s had to offer. These acted as a stirring and sometimes ironic soundtrack to Quill's adventures with the Guardians of the Galaxy, a ragtag bunch of thieves and outlaws who join forces to save the universe from the machinations of the usual intergalactic maniac. It was a lot of fun, and Quill's misreading of 1980s American pop culture provided a recurring source of amusement.
In this busy and expensive looking sequel, Quill and his buddies Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket the genetically-engineered raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot the talking tree (Vin Diesel) have been charged with recovering an extremely powerful set of batteries owned by the haughty Sovereign people. Their leader, Ayesha (played with relish by Elizabeth Debicki) has just patronised the hell out of the returning Guardians when she realises that Rocket has stolen the batteries again.
With the Sovereigns on their tail, the Guardians crash-land on a nearby planet, severely damaging their ship. All seems lost until another ship mysteriously appears and a bearded, messianic-looking being appears. He is Ego (Kurt Russell), a kind of interplanetary god, who after repelling the Sovereign attackers drops the bombshell that he's Peter Quill's dad. He came to Earth and wooed Quill's mother back in the early 80s, and now offers to help his boy fulfil his destiny.
He whisks Quill, Gamora and Drax to his idyllic home planet, and offers Quill a kind of partnership in immortality. But Gamora thinks Ego's full of s***, and will soon be proved right.
Busy from the word go, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is packed with jokes, stunts and dizzyingly elaborate fight scenes, most memorably the moment when Rocket and the dastardly blue space buccaneer Yondu (Michael Rooker) break out of a spaceship jail and run amok with a deadly dart controlled by Yondu's whistle. The effects are good but rather relentless, and it's the jokes that keep things going. Bradley Cooper's sneering raccoon Rocket reaches new heights of self-serving cynicism before a heart of gold is tentatively revealed, and the man mountain Drax gets genuine laughs that are mostly related to his tendency to over-share. And I thought Elizabeth Debicki did a great job playing the fuming golden queen Ayesha.
But there's a franticness to the film's plot that's accompanied by a curious lack of urgency. The jokes are good, the music's super cheesy, but the galaxy doesn't seem in too much peril, and after making a grand entrance, Kurt Russell's amiable villain turns out to be rather dull.
But the element that's missed most of all here is Quill himself. He should swash, he should buckle, but instead he moons about with a worried look on his face like space Hamlet. As a result, Pratt's considerable comic gifts are thwarted, to the production's detriment.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Films coming soon...
Sleepless (Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan); A Dog's Purpose (Britt Robertson, John Ortiz, Josh Gad); Harmonium (Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano); Mindhorn (Julian Barratt, Steve Coogan); The Journey (Colm Meaney, Timothy Spall).