A few years ago, I had a really great meal of seared ahi tuna in a wasabi sauce at a local restaurant that I’d never been to before. This was seriously a fantastic meal, and I say this as someone who doesn’t normally remember even what he ate the next day, much less have any specific recollections about the tastes I had. It was the sort of meal that I actually recommended to people in the months to come.
This gastronomical memory lingering spectacularly in my head, I had no hesitation in ordering it again the next time we went to the same restaurant. “Surely,” my mind assured me, “This meal shall be as good as the previous, as they are no doubt doing the same thing!”
And it was… good. It was still a fine dinner, and it hit all of the tastes I expected it to hit, and there’s no doubt that there hadn’t been any changes to the way it was prepared, but it wasn’t quite the same. The meal was fine, but my anticipation of it had so overwhelmed the actual reaction of my taste buds to the food itself that it was destined for the slightest bit of disappointment.
The same sensation, no doubt, will be felt by many moviegoers taking in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, the sequel to, in my humble opinion, the most outright enjoyable of the new century’s superhero flicks. GUARDIANS VOL. 2 is essentially the same meal as the first GUARDIANS – the epic space battles, witty dialogue, humor that comes naturally from the characters and creatively-designed overwhelming set pieces that made the first film so enjoyable are all back in good form through the spirited direction of James Gunn. There are the prerequisite emotional story arcs that deliver their payoffs, even if some (Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula) are more deserved than others (Rocket’s desire for a family seems more slapdash than fully explored). There are explosions and clever comebacks and Drax trying to blend in and credits-centered codas that will cause any non-Marvel completist scrambling for Wikipedia.
There’s no doubt that GUARDIANS VOL. 2 is a hell of a lot of fun, and you really can’t help but be taken along for the ride for another trip on what is essentially the cinematic version of The Simpsons’ focus group segment – “a realistic, down to Earth show that’s completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots.” Chris Pratt again makes for an affable hero as Quill, and the rest of the cast gives their all as well, but the real treasure is, oddly, in Michael Rooker’s performance as Yondu, the blue-skinned Ravager with whom Quill shares a complex relationship and who centers the film’s best action sequence. Kurt Russell, playing a man who claims to be Quinn’s father1, seems a little sedate (I kept hoping he’d put a little bit more Jack Burton into the role), but makes for a memorable antagonist. Sylvester Stallone appears in essentially a cameo that exists to set up the next film2, deflating any hopes for a TANGO & CASH reunion.
(And then there’s Baby Groot, voiced by the returning Vin Diesel, who is no doubt very happy to collect a ridiculous paycheck. Baby Groot is entertaining in small doses, but that small does starts to wear out its welcome by the end of the opening credits. Thankfully, the character is used sparingly and, admittedly, entertainingly for the most part, though you can almost see the wires that the character is standing on where it’s just one overly adorable remark away from becoming a damn Minion. Be thankful that this isn’t the ‘80s, when we would have had an odious “Baby Groot and His Saplings” animated series that would have its own cereal and millennials would be blogging about it.)
As entertaining as GUARDIANS VOL. 2 is, however, it never quite lives up to the remembered experience of watching the first GUARDIANS, as what felt very fresh three years ago when the doors of the super hero universe were opened to both space adventure, humor and coherence (GREEN LANTERN got about halfway there) feels more comfortable than gleefully awe-inspiring. It’s a sequel that doesn’t tread too far outside of its comfort zone, though it does a perfectly fine job of going through the paces of what made the original so entertaining.
At a bit over two hours, the formula of GUARDIANS VOL. 2 starts to wear thin towards the end (you can only take so many action sequences where the lead characters shoot a bunch of stuff to the accompaniment of K-BILLY’S Super Sounds of the ‘70s), but the quality never dips below “likeable” even as the emotional arcs seem more obligatory than necessary. It’s still an enjoyable, high-energy, and downright fun experience at the movies that makes fine use of the 3-D technology, so even if it never quite becomes the fantastic meal that you remember, it’s still a darn good little feast.
1 – I realize that everyone who’s interested enough in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 to be reading this probably knows who he is by now, but I went it without even having seen a trailer, so I give the benefit to those like-minded folks.
2 – I hate that this has become a thing.
Tags: Aliens, Andy Lanning, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Chris Sullivan, Comic Books, Dan Abnett, Dave Bautista, Elizabeth Debicki, James Gunn, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios, Michael Rooker, music, Pom Klementieff, Raccoons, science fiction, Sean Gunn, Space, Sylvester Stallone, Trees, Tyler Bates, vin diesel, Zoe Saldana