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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ a solid sequel

May 12, 2017 GMT

How does Marvel Studios and writer/director James Gunn follow up their idiosyncratic space-opera send up “Guardians of the Galaxy”? Despite its undeniable success, the pressure to live up the ever-growing reputation of their 2014 blockbuster had be daunting, considering the specific tone and aesthetic approach these creators allowed for the project. I am happy to say that while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” doesn’t capture the same lightning-in-a-bottle, I-can’t-believe-they’re-getting-away-with-this quality of its predecessor, Gunn still brings his subversive sensibilities to the table with enthusiasm.

After botching a trade deal with a race of golden elitist aliens called The Sovereign, the Guardians hightail it to the other side of the galaxy to find safety. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) find refuge on a heavenly planet manned by a glowing, bearded celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell) who’s claiming to be Peter’s father. Separated from the rest of the group, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the baby tree elemental Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are crash landed on a forest planet with Gamora’s violent brainwashed sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), hoping to avoid Peter’s old clan of space pirates that’s led by the vengeful Yondu (Michael Rooker). Making things all the more complicated, the pirates are staging a mutiny, believing that Yondu himself has been too soft on Peter’s betrayal.

Gunn’s love for the characters is evident throughout the plot, which, unlike a lot of Marvel’s on-screen adaptations, is rooted in pathos. Every scene and set-piece advances a character’s role in the story and has an overall goal toward supporting the theme of outsiders looking to form new families. While there are plenty of expensive special effects to gawk at and many visual gags and quips in the dialog to laugh at, the whole thing is held together by Gunn’s strength in character-driven, emotional storytelling. That said, the special effects are at times overwhelmingly glossy, sometimes losing a true sense of tactility, and the humor occasionally slips into try-hard territory.

While the previous film found its humor in the on-screen interactions and the outlandish circumstances of the plot, along with moments of sarcastic dialogue, this script feels a more punched-up with a joke-per-page quota that has to be met. This expectation for comedy leaves some quips and gags falling flat while other jokes and setups feel more naturally integrated. Overall, the storytelling and the conviction of the actors in their roles supports even the film’s weaker attempts at humor.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” can’t surprise us like the first one did and one can find faults in its minutia but the takeaway is still the same — this is a fun group of weirdoes to follow and even if you don’t know where things are going in the plot, you’re always invested in their colorful antics. Gunn’s themes about fatherhood and legacy ring true, even as they are heavily dressed in neon, arcade-game production design and delivered through jokey dialogue. Marvel fans and movie fans alike should treasure this weird little niche that Gunn and his cohorts have carved out for themselves.

Grade: B+

Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He is currently working as a media journalist in Los Angeles, California.