Despite its barrage of gags (both visual and verbal) and computer-generated action sequences, the concerns of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are primarily of matters of the heart. That's a pleasant surprise, because the first film, enjoyable though it was, bogged itself down in concerns of the central plot. One's memory of that plot might be hazy in comparison to the ragtag group of misfit antiheroes it brought together, but it concerned itself with a villain whose plan was ultimate destruction and an Infinity Stone, a MacGuffin of seemingly great importance that really made no sense. Here, the characters (played by a cast of actors who are all superbly in sync with each other, including the tertiary members of it) take center stage in ways that are consistently surprising, thanks to a screenplay by returning director James Gunn that actually considers them as characters.
That was only true up to a point in the 2014 film, which focused more on their coordination as a ragtag group of misfit antiheroes. The sequel wisely breaks the team into two groups, which allows for a little isolation between each of its members. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, must confront the identity of his absentee father. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) must confront the long-festering resentment, perhaps misplaced, of her adoptive family and her tyrannical father's legacy. Rocket (Sean Gunn and the voice of Bradley Cooper), the raccoon-turned-science-experiment, must confront his own abandonment issues, which have left him with a serious cynicism toward any sort of affection. As for Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), well, he's now a sapling of his former self, having nearly made the ultimate sacrifice at the end of the previous movie. He's positively adorable now, as one villain states, reluctant to finish him off.
The two primary plot threads, then, are of secondary concern to the writer/director, who diverges from the usual trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to bring us a more intimate approach to these characters. Peter finally does encounter his father Ego (Kurt Russell), a "celestial" whose true nature should not be revealed in this review. They bond over the life they've missed together and the series of personal revelations that reframe Peter's view of himself and his life. Gamora finally confronts Nebula (Karen Gillan) through the forced circumstances of having to rescue her multiple times. Even Yondu (Michael Rooker), the disgraced Ravager whose own people have abandoned him after he broke their code, has more to do here, and so, for that matter, does Drax (Dave Bautista), whose well-enunciated literalism has become pragmatic and even a little wise this time around.
The plot must eventually raise its head in the form of the set-up, which has the Guardians of the Galaxy (The moniker is stated as some known quantity this time around, sort of like that of the other group of misfit heroes closer to Earth, with whom the Guardians must eventually team up in some future installment of this incestuous franchise) rescuing Nebula from the clutches of the Sovereign, a gold-painted, remarkably haughty race (led by Elizabeth Debicki in a sneakily good performance as the fed-up leader) whose tactical advantage in battle is never to man combat vehicles personally. They receive some help from Ego, who takes Peter, Gamora, and Drax back to his planet in order to connect Peter with his destiny. Rocket and Groot, meanwhile, are captured by Yondu and a group of Ravagers who have been commissioned by the Sovereign to destroy the Guardians.
The payoff is a little back-heavy, with Ego's true nature revealing itself in a busy climax that brings everyone together and cranks up the reliance on action set pieces to 11. Even so, there are some clever moments throughout, not only the climax, but the early sections, too. The opening sequence is a rambunctious fight with a giant squid monster thing, set to the tune of Electric Light Orchestra as Baby Groot dances in the foreground. Yondu gets a neat hero moment involving his magical arrow (which travels through the bodies of his victims by way of his whistling). The climax, which manages to be fueled by those matters of the heart that drive the rest of the movie even amid the business, has an extended conversation about the need for a packing material that will have viewers rolling. This is a lighter and sillier movie than many of the others in this most mega of franchises, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a fun romp with a heart as a result of that lightened load.
Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Michael Rooker (Yondu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Kurt Russell (Ego), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Chris Sullivan (Taserface), Sean Gunn (Kraglin/Rocket), Sylvester Stallone (Stakar Ogord). Featuring the voices of Bradley Cooper (Rocket) and Vin Diesel (Baby Groot).
Directed and written by James Gunn, based on the Marvel comics by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action/violence, language, brief suggestive content).
Released on May 5, 2017.