Thursday, May 04, 2017

Zaki's Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Read my 2014 review of the first Guardians of the Galaxy here

It’s easy to forget now, but when Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy first arrived in theaters in 2014, it represented something of a departure for the Disney-owned superhero factory in terms of both style and content. The sci-fi caper (written & directed by James Gunn) not only had a fanciful tone and setting that made other properties in the already-expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe (such as Iron Man and Captain America) feel positively sedate by way of comparison, it also leaned heavily on the likability and chemistry of its cast to make the sale to audiences who likely had little-to-no familiarity with a cast of characters that were a deep dive into comic book arcana by even the most diehard fanboy standards.

Well, it’s three years later now, and in what I suppose is a measure of how much things have changed in the interim for Marvel’s band of space-faring ne’er-do-wells, their sequel arrives amid a wave of pomp and anticipation normally accorded to the biggest of blockbusters, and they’ve even been given the traditional “first weekend of May” summer kickoff slot that’s been occupied by one Marvel property or another for twelve of the last fifteen years. Luckily for both the studio and the audience, this latest installment neatly lives up to those heightened expectations, and is a very close second only to Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the roster of MCU #2s.

In an indicator that Marvel wasn’t about to mess with a winning formula, Gunn is back behind the camera for this go-round, as is the entire cast, headed up by Chris Pratt (whose turn as displaced Earth-man Peter “Star-Lord” Quill pretty much singlehandedly turned him from "TV funnyman" into "global superstar"). Picking up shortly after the first movie left off, the titular team is caught up in a heist-gone-wrong that leads to their crossing paths with Peter’s long lost papa, Ego (Kurt Russell, sporting a bushy beard and truly enviable mane of windswept hair), an alien immortal who wants to spirit his son away from his friends (including Zoe Saldana’s Gamora and Dave Bautista’s Drax).

Meanwhile, fellow Guardians Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot, or rather -- given that he’s still re-growing after the climactic events of last time -- Baby Groot (who manages the feat of being unbearably adorable even while being voiced by Vin Diesel) are separated from their teammates and forced to team up with blue-skinned Yondu (Micheal Rooker), the very same space pirate who took Quill into space lo those decades ago for reasons unknown. It’s a safe bet these threads will intersect by film's end, but Gunn's script gets us there in some fun and intriguing ways that lay the pipe for future installments while still wrapping things up in an altogether satisfactory manner.

Upon examination, what makes this second Guardians work is largely the same stuff that made the first Guardians work. While it’s possessed of a scale that clearly evinces the confidence in its standing as a big budget follow-up to a mega-hit, it still retains the spritely sense of fun that made the earlier effort connect with audiences. Key to this is Pratt, who resumes his Star-Lord role with an ease (in both the action scenes and his Sam-and-Diane banter with Saldana) that illustrates yet again what perfect casting this was. Bautista’s deadpan Drax also benefits from a plot-line that not only gives him some of the biggest laughs in the film, but a fun and surprising pseudo-romantic pairing with Ego’s aide Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

Like the array of beloved ‘70s and ‘80s tunes peppered throughout the soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a welcome mix of the fresh and the familiar that does the job of priming the pump for another volume. We’re now fifteen flicks deep into the expansive enterprise that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a new Spider-Man and the third Thor already in the barrel for arrival later this year. And while Guardians 2 definitely doesn’t shy away from its MCU connections (I can think of at least two moments that are sure to put a grin on longtime Marvelites' faces), neither is it beholden to them, maintaining a degree of narrative distance that’s actually kind of refreshing (though I’m naturally still excited to see what’s in store for them in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War). A-

For more movie talk, including thoughts on the latest casting news for Disney's Aladdin and Universal's Jurassic World sequel, catch the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast at this link or via the embed below:

No comments: