With summer movie season upon us it’s time for audiences to catch up with Marvel’s biggest band of misfit heroes, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are back to regale us with their penchant for saving the galaxy, their nifty witticisms (and hilarious banter) and their wacky family dynamic. This sequel to the surprisingly successful original has the group running for their lives from a race of people known as the Sovereign (Rocket stole some of their belongings), but in the meantime Peter learns about his past, particularly about his origin and lineage. Peter Gunn is back as both director and writer, and he again capitalizes on the offbeat nature of the series. Needless to say, Gunn’s sensibilities work better here than in forgettable The Belko Experiment.

Based on this sequel’s journey, it’s safe to say Vol. 2 has daddy issues. This is due, of course, to Peter not knowing who his father is. Early on during Vol. 2’s 136-minute running time, it’s revealed that a Celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell) is Peter’s father, and Ego is eager to strike up the father-son relationship that Peter never experienced. Peter learns a lot about himself, but at the same time the team learns a lot about each other as a collective and more importantly, as a family.

While Peter, Gamora and Drax travel with Ego and his “pet,” Mantis (Pom Klementieff), to his home planet, Rocket and Baby Groot are left to watch over their prisoner, Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), whom they procured from the Sovereign after completing a mission for the gold-skinned race.

With the original being so much fun (and doing so in surprising fashion), it would’ve been difficult to convey that a second time. Gunn knew this and decided to change tempo. Vol. 2 still has plenty to laugh about, but with Gunn delving deeper into Peter’s heritage it was obvious that this would be more emotional. The relationship between Peter and Ego is poignant and innocent, and with Russell and Pratt playing their characters so well it’s easy to be invested in their story arc. In keeping with that, Gunn attempts to provide closure to both Gamora and Nebula, since they’ve been more competitors than siblings. Rocket’s relationship with Baby Groot has changed – he’s now Groot’s protector, whereas Groot was originally Rocket’s protector. Drax, who is still very literal, develops a relationship with Mantis, and a sweeter side emerges from the giant strongman. On top of all that, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his team of Ravagers are on the prowl for the guardians, having recently been hired by the Sovereign leader, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), to capture and bring them in.

Interestingly, the strongest performance may actually come from Rooker. Although Yondu is a popular character, he wasn’t complex or layered. Gunn, though, changes that and we get to see more of Yondu, which is good. We better get to see his motivations, and we are able to better understand his relationship with Peter. Rooker, if it hasn’t been pointed out before, is a fantastic character actor and with this turn we’re treated to his talents. Yondu’s story arc stays in line with the film’s overall tone, so this is an unexpected bonus.

Vol. 2 is another fun time at the cinema. Gunn did well to avoid the Michael Bay route of going bigger and way over-the-top. His choice to focus on relationships is a good one and Vol. 2 succeeds from that perspective.

There are a couple of things which keep this from eclipsing its predecessor, though. The soundtrack, which is very much at the heart of the first film, now seems forced. The songs aren’t as memorable and thus feel shoehorned. Sam Cooke, Fleetwood Mac and Parliament are great, but as good they are they don’t compare to Marvin Gaye, David Bowie and the Jackson 5. Vol. 2 didn’t necessarily need music to bolster its identity and ideals like the original did, but I’m sure this is a debatable topic.

Also, Gunn likes violence. That was obvious in The Belko Experiment and it is apparent here. Although Vol. 2 is PG-13, there was one scene in which many people died. The lack of blood (and the music it was set to) allowed it to be more cartoonish than literal, but still, violence is violence and I would actually hesitate to bring young children in to see this. The Guardians series, in my opinion, is supposed to be fun, but expanding that idea towards lives seems careless and lacks sensitivity. Maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong perspective, but this sequel is a more violent one and it suffers because of it.

Vol. 2 regardless of what I think, is sure to do big business. There is plenty to like and it continues to be fun, but its emotions are heavy and lend to an imbalance that makes this a different, not-as-fun-as-the-first movie. This is still worth checking out but ultimately it’s not quite at the same level as the original.

By the way, Baby Groot is the most adorable and funny thing going, there are some interesting cameos (not enough Stallone; no John C. Reilly – boo!!!) and stay for the entire film (five post-credit scenes!!!).

3.5 stars out of 5


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