Friday 20 April 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 review: Marvel at its near best - spectacular and funny


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Geoffrey McNab

The second Guardians Of The Galaxy is Marvel Studios near its best: spectacular, funny and with a very likeable self-mocking quality. Whereas the first Guardians was a little too flippant and full of in-jokes, here writer-director James Gunn somehow manages to give even the most outlandish comic book characters an interior life.

Whether they're blue-skinned “ravagers,” Amazonian princesses in gold paint, varmints, planks of wood or humans, they all have their own secret yearnings. This is a movie about sons searching for their fathers, sisters trying to resolve long buried conflicts, cynical, wise- cracking raccoons who just want to belong to a family, and outlaws looking for redemption.

The film features eye-popping visual effects, a nostalgic jukebox-style musical soundtrack, talking animals, lots of celebrity cameos and plenty of sardonic humour but still manages to tell a coherent and emotionally engaging story.

To reacquaint us with the main characters, Gunn throws in a galactic action set piece which involves a lot of goo and guts. Dave Bautista’s bone-headed Drax dives head first down the throat of some enormous space lizard/octopus in order to cut it to pieces from the inside.

The next burst of action is set in motion by Rocket the Raccoon (again voiced by Bradley Cooper) stealing some high powered batteries belonging to the Sovereigns (the very civilisation that the Guardians have been busy saving.)

Their high priestess (Elizabeth Debicki made up to look like Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger) is furious and sends a huge fleet of remotely controlled spaceships to pursue the Guardians across the universe. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has her rogue sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) in captivity and is planning to hand her over to the authorities.

With so many characters and subplots, the film risks becoming baffling. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the dimwitted tree from the first film, is now twig size. Quill is desperate to find his real father. Ego (Kurt Russell) could be just the man he is looking for.

As his name hints, Ego is on the self-centred side but, like Quill himself, he loves his 70s and 80s pop culture references. He may not be David Hasselhoff but he shares the Baywatch and Knight Rider star’s rugged good looks and his narcissism. (His motto is “everything is me.”)

Russell enjoys himself in a role in which he is sending up a character similar to himself. Pratt shows an appealing puppy-like confusion in the presence of this mysterious patriarch.

Every so often, there will be a blast of music from Quill’s Walkman on the soundtrack, maybe George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' or something from Fleetwood Mac or ELO. The visual palate in the scenes set on Ego's planet is on the trippy and psychedelic side.

Some of the jokes can be surprisingly crude. Drax’s idea of revenge is to leave poo on someone’s pillow. There are jokes about Ego’s penis. Rocket can’t stop laughing at the idea that one of the most lawless of the Ravager warriors is called Taser Face.

Quill and Gamora, meanwhile, behave like characters in a battle of the sexes screwball comedy, competing and arguing, even as their unspoken attraction for one another becomes harder for them to resist. When she is not trying to sublimate her feelings for Quill, Gamora has an equally complex and attritional relationship with her sister Nebula to negotiate.

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With all the explosions, hardware on display and fight scenes, the visual effects bill for the movie must have been astronomical. Nonetheless, Gunn is just as interested in squeezing out the pathos as in staging action set-pieces. In the final reel, when all the main protagonists are being selfless and heroic, the film risks turning into a full-blown weepie.

As the sentimentality grows ever more cloying, you begin to wish for some of the wise-cracking cynicism of the earlier scenes. The sappy ending notwithstanding, this is generally a wildly entertaining ride in which the humour, action and the soul-searching are blended almost perfectly.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits cinemas 28 April.

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