Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Grade : A Year : 2017 Director : James Gunn Running Time : 2hr 16min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

In his second go-round with Marvel’s intergalactic band of misfits, writer-director James Gunn had the unenviable task of following up arguably the most entertaining movie in the MCU yet with a film just as entertaining, but also engaged in getting the pieces further in place for next year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” in which the Guardians make their first appearance opposite their Earth-bound counterparts. I don’t know how much we got of the latter, but Gunn, despite an elongated running time that drags the pace considerably compared to the first film, definitely accomplishes the first part with aplomb.

What is most impressive about the “Guardians” movies is how comfortable Gunn is with the big-budget spectacle involved with them. Previously best known for low-budget genre offerings like “Slither” and “Super,” Gunn might even be more confident with the type of large-scale storytelling required for these films than his friend (and one of my personal faves) Joss Whedon, who directed the first two “Avengers” movies. Or maybe it’s just that Gunn was able to play a bit looser with his films than Whedon was, and because of the risky, frisky nature of the films and characters, the pressure was off of him more than it was with Whedon, whose films acted as post markers for significant moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the closest we’ve gotten to experimental cinema in the MCU, and Gunn has embraced the nature of this world with imagination and an attention to character and story that is in-line with the rest of the larger franchise.

In the first 10 minutes of “Vol. 2,” Gunn sets up his story for Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). We start out in 1980 Missouri, where we see Peter’s mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock), on a romantic drive with a younger Ego (Kurt Russell, de-aged using the same techniques from “Rogue One” and other films) that will result in her son, Peter (aka Star Lord), and pick up the story 34 years later, as the Guardians are tasked with keeping a special set of batteries protected from a dangerous monster for the people of Sovereign, easily offended evolved beings who will be on their trail after Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries, you know, “just because.” After they are grounded when the Sovereign people pursue them, we return to the issue of Peter’s parentage when Ego, a Celestial being, and his assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), show up, and take Peter, Gamora and Drax to his planet where he lives to have some much-needed bonding time, and maybe even giving him a purpose in life.

If Gunn has provided nothing else to the MCU, he’s brought fantastic music into the Marvel Universe. I’m not necessarily talking about Tyler Bates’s underscore, although it’s entertaining (and supplemented with a fantastic disco-esque track here that brings to mind the famous disco “Star Wars” theme), but the songs that Quill listens to from mixtapes his mother made for him. The 2014 film had probably the best song soundtrack in years, and “Vol. 2” continues that rich musical tradition. It starts with those opening scenes I talked about in the previous paragraph, although the second scene, which finds Baby Groot dancing to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians take on the creature, is the early highlight of the film. Music plays a big role in some of the film’s best scenes, like Ego and Peter talking about their connection in the context of Looking Glass’s “Brandy”; an escape attempt by Rocket, Groot and Yondu (Michael Rooker, playing an unexpectedly big role here) set to “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay & the Americans; and a final scene, a funeral, set to Cat Stevens’s “Father & Son” that crystallizes the bond several characters had with the deceased. With the “Guardians” films, Gunn is elevating himself to Tarantino and Scorsese levels of musical genius when it comes to creating song soundtracks for his films. In many ways, he’s beyond those two, and that’s a tall order.

Family plays a big role in the narrative of “Guardians Vol. 2.” Peter and his parentage is the central arc of the film, and Pratt has great chemistry with Russell’s Ego as he learns more about his birthrights, and his mother, but we also get a bit more into the dynamics between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), the daughters of Thanos who have found themselves on opposite sides, and stage a scene reminiscent of the crop-dusting sequence in “North By Northwest” that leads to unexpected revelations. Drax and Mantis are equally inept at identifying social cues, making their “bond” a source of many laughs during the film. Ultimately, though, the film comes down to Peter and his two father figures- the one who gave birth to him (Ego) and the one who raised him (Yondu), and while it makes for compelling personal storytelling, it also drags the film to a halt. As a result, while this is a really fun Marvel movie (expect big entertainment from Baby Groot), it also feels like the slowest moving one, in a lot of ways. The latter does not negate the former, but it does make it feel like a bit of a letdown after how awesome the first film was. Hopefully, if a third film comes down the pike, we’ll see a better mix of the elements than we got this time.

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