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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 by James Gunn (writer/director)
Review by Drew Bittner
Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios  
Date: 11 May 2017

Links: Imdb Record /

What is ‘family’?

That’s the big question of this new movie, which sees Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) finding an answer to the most painful unknown of his life: Who is his father? Turns out the answer is Ego (Kurt Russell), who shows up after a bit of work for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) of “the Sovereign” goes horribly wrong—thanks to Rocket (Bradley Cooper).

Guardians of the Galaxy
Vol. 2

CAST:
Chris Pratt -- Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana -- Gamora
Dave Bautista -- Drax
Vin Diesel -- Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper -- Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker -- Yondu
Karen Gillan -- Nebula
Pom Klementieff -- Mantis
Kurt Russell -- Ego
Elizabeth Debicki -- Ayesha


But this jumps ahead a touch. James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens in 1980 with a couple in love. Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) is with her special guy (Russell, convincingly de-aged), who she knows is an alien. They seem very happy ... but we already know it isn't going to last.

Next, we find the Guardians doing mercenary work--for the aforementioned Ayesha--fighting a teleporting super-octopus called an abelisk. The opening sequence is delightful, but shows that there are problems for our heroes. They aren't getting along: Rocket doing his own thing, Peter and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are struggling with interpersonal issues, Drax (Dave Bautista) is a loose cannon, and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is ... adorable.

Beating the abelisk earns the team a special prize. They take custody of Gamora's sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians plan to take back to planet Xandar for a bounty. However, a foolish decision leads to the Sovereign hunting the Guardians relentlessly. This creates one of the funniest moments in the movie, as the young Sovereign are using remote controls to pilot drone ships after the Guardian's Milano--in pods that look like video games. As each drone is destroyed, the user's screen goes red in a "game over: like fashion.

On another planet, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers come face to face with Yondu's old team, including Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) and Martinex (Michael Rosenbaum). They expelled him from their ranks years before, for violating their Code, and assure him that he will die without celebration or honor by the Ravagers. His crew thinks that capturing Peter for the Sovereign might balance the scales but Yondu is reluctant, making some angry at his willingness to protect the rebellious human.

Under fire by Sovereign drones, then rescued by an unknown ally, the Guardians nevertheless crash on an alien world. Once down, this ally--who calls himself Ego and says he's Peter's father--extends an invitation to them to visit his planet, where Peter can learn more about his heritage. He's accompanied by Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a shy and innocent girl with empathic powers, who acts as his sedative when he needs to sleep.

Rocket, Baby Groot, and Nebula remain behind so that Rocket can repair the Milano as best he can. That night, a force of Ravagers led by Yondu attack their camp. Despite some ingenious booby traps, a key betrayal allows them to take Rocket and Groot prisoner ... as well as Yondu himself, overthrown by the reckless and swaggering Taserface (Chris Sullivan).

Elsewhere, the other Guardians land on Ego's world. They learn he's been searching for the meaning to his extremely long existence; Peter might be the key to fulfilling what Ego considers his destiny. He shares his true nature with Peter, including that Peter himself can apparently access his singular powers--the ability to create objects out of a living light he can access. Peter may well be as immortal as his father.

Mantis accidentally reveals one character's deepest secret, prompting gales of laughter from Drax, who considers the buglike girl hideous on the outside but probably beautiful within. At the same time, Nebula has come in search of Gamora, in order to resolve her long-standing hatred for her sister. What transpires is clearly not what either of them expected. Then again, neither is Ego's ultimate plan.

Among the Ravagers, Baby Groot is made a plaything by the rough pirate crew, even as Rocket mercilessly mocks Taserface's ill-chosen name and Yondu's loyalists are purged. Rocket and Yondu are forced into an alliance in order to escape and just maybe save Peter, the others and the galaxy itself ... again.

Pratt shines as Star-Lord, showing equal measures swagger, uncertainty, loyalty, and heart. His initial distrust of Ego is fair, as is the way he comes around. He is nearly all emotion in this, between wanting more out of one relationship to discovering something that shatters his world. He is the burning core of this story even more than the first. And Pratt is more than up to this challenge.

Zoe Saldana's Gamora has some challenges too, between coming to understand Nebula in a wholly new way and sensing that there's more to Ego than he's revealed. Her role is action-packed but she has some great scenes to dig into that highlight her skills as an actress.

Much like the first movie, Bradley Cooper has some truly devastating moments as Rocket. Even more abrasive and unruly than before, Rocket makes some bad choices--and only one other character figures out why. The unlikely bond that results forms a strong emotional subplot to the movie. Suffice to say that Rocket has to make the second hardest choice in the movie and struggles with the consequences.

Vin Diesel, on the other hand, seems to be having a blast as Baby Groot. Apart from a scene where the Ravagers have fun with the tiny treeman, he is round-eyed innocence personified. No longer the biggest and toughest Guardian, he nevertheless has a crucial role to play. A protracted scene revolving around tape, in which Groot is a key part, does more in five minutes to explain who the Guardians are than one might believe.

Michael Rooker's Yondu and Karen Gillan's Nebula both evolve far beyond the rather basic antagonistic roles they played earlier. What was subtext (at best) before is now clearly stated; these two have serious issues that challenge Peter and Gamora in entirely new ways. It's not an understatement to say viewers will have entirely different opinions of these two coming out of this movie, and that's in no small part because Rooker and Gillan totally nail it.

Russell's Ego is almost a summation of Russell's career. Ego has all the overblown machismo of Jack Burton, the growly certainty of a Snake Plissken, and the slightly too-good-to-be-true charm of Dexter Riley (look it up). He has very big plans now that he's found his son, but the ramifications of those plans might not go over well with Peter and company. They also learn the dangers of making a Celestial-level living planet angry.

We cannot end a review without noting the music of the movie. Much like the first, it forms the emotional context of the entire story, shifting from the upbeat dancing-Groot opening of "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO to the heavy emotional context of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain". Cat Steven's elegiac "Father and Son" underscores the way fatherhood transforms both parent and child, often in unexpected ways, and many more of the songs here are perfect grace notes to the story unfolding on screen.

All in all, the story revolves around a central premise: What is family? Is it the one we make for ourselves or the one we're tied to by blood? What do we owe those who love us? And what are we willing to do in the name of love?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not have all the answers to that, but it asks the questions anyway.

Strongly recommended.

Oh, and stay to the VERY end. There are no fewer than FIVE mid- and post-credit scenes, many of which pay off big for Marvel fans.

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