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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: An ambitious, razzle-dazzle escapade

Four months after their victory over Ronan, the Guardians of the Galaxy—made up of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), have become legitimate guardians. The team is hired by The Sovereign, an advanced alien race, to protect their precious batteries. Upon defeating an extraterrestrial monster in exchange for Nebula (Karen Gillan), they upset Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), Sovereign’s High Priestess.

Saved by a “one-inch man” from Ayesha’s maddened armada of drones, they crash-land on a nearby world. Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) approaches them and claims to be Quill’s estranged father. Surprised, Quill, Gamora, and Drax follow Ego and his subordinate Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to his home planet, leaving Rocket and Groot behind to tend to Quill’s ship—the Milano. At the same time, Ayesha brings in Yondu (Michael Rooker), just dismissed from the Ravager community by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), to hunt the A-holes.

Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Chris Pratt, and Dave Bautista

Guardians of the Galaxy came as an astonishing hit in 2014 because it had virtually no right to be that awesome. The success resulted from of Gunn’s delicate precision in adapting an obscure property, as well as its remote nature to the core set of MCU characters. This swashbuckling, kooky, heart-warming adventure of the adorable outlaws left a sweet aroma, lingering till the day we could see Baby Groot out of his pot. This May (or April outside America), Volume Two commenced the summer blitz of blockbusters with a wider and more vibrant spectacle, a tale of familial ideas, and the diegetic sound of Awesome Mix Volume Two.

Opened with a prologue in 1984, Volume Two draws us in with the romantic relationship between Ego the Living Planet (a de-aged Russell with both digital and practical effects) and Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) with Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” in the background. Of course, the amorous couple are Star-Lord’s biological parents. This scene *plants a seed *of curiosity and provides a closer look into the main plot: Peter Quill finding his lineage. It’s a “main” plot because three subplots also run in parallel with the father-and-son reconciliation.

Yes, the narrative structure looks like a mayhem, but admirably, it’s a calculated mayhem that genuinely loves its characters. This is a bold decision from Gunn I must respect because he understood the stakes and the usual mistakes of sequels: growing cast members and highly pressurized drama. The director didn’t want it to be boring or overpacked, so he decided not to include everyone in a shared, straightforward storyline, which would end up a disrespectful mess. The rewards prevail in characterization, but story-wise, the movie has a harder time keeping itself cohesive.

Gunn upped the ante in creating the spectacle

After that brief flashback on Earth, the sight drifts to the Guardians’ space exploits in an action sequence that embodies both familiar chemistry and new dynamics. With compassion and reverence, Star-Lord clumsily tracks through the minefield of Gamora’s uncertain feeling for him; Drax the Destroyer proves, with unyielding passion, his virtuosity in the art of close-quarter combat; Rocket plays father to a marble-eyed Baby Groot, who now looks more like a Funko Pop! figure than the figure itself. Groot used to be Rocket’s silly and efficient handyman, but the walking druid is currently a baby. While his childlike expressions are an easy laugh, the fact that the Guardians aren’t dealing with him as a peer adds more stirring moments of levity and drama. Humor explodes with relentless gags alongside high-speed editing and dialogues, which is absorbing but sometimes leaves a mild annoyance.

Their first collaboration in the previous movie was to deal with an adversary who threatened the whole galaxy, and they could endure one another only because that was the only way to overcome the hardships. They grew to appreciate having close friends, but when there’s no menacing overlord around to fight, how do they carry on with this makeshift family? Without further ado, the first act establishes serious underlying conflicts, much more toxic than just scathing insults, between Quill and Rocket. The “trash panda” (borrowing from Quill) is the outlet of several remorselessly cringy jokes. His character is much less attractive than before, but Rocket has enough space to contemplate his cynicism and fear for intimacy on his own, and through interactions with Yondu, as he recedes into the background.

Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel)

Drax is another person who becomes less physically active. The shirtless, literal-minded warrior doesn’t take much initiative in violence—what he always does best—and mostly spends time sitting around. He talks to people. A lot. His weird, unhinged quirks propel moments of stupendous humor, and Bautista just owned every single burst of laughter. Through goofy exchanges with the empath Mantis, with inky eyes no smaller than Groot’s—Klementieff really sold her delightful innocence, and his profound reflections on life, Drax gets in touch with his past tragedy before making peace with his loss.

Though the team split up, three subplots, one way or another, revolve around the drama of Quill and Ego. Quill’s father issues are explored with both sincerity and comedic supplements (David Hasselhoff has a cameo) as he wholeheartedly wants to connect with his father to make up for the lost years. For the first time in his adulthood, Quill exhibits psychological vulnerability. Suave but befuddled, Pratt effortlessly carried the man-child’s attitude along with plot proceedings, particularly in that powerful scene with a dolly zoom.

Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, and Zoe Saldana

Quill’s estranged father, in human form, takes up a lot of screen time as a walking mouthpiece of exposition even when visual storytelling is more than capable of presenting information—his slideshow of holograms, hello? With his well-sculpted sweet beard, Russell brought forth the sensitivity in dialogues with Quill even though his name suggests characteristics worth inspecting to audiences. Whereas the veteran actor didn’t get a chance to reunite with his Tango & Cash partner Stallone, the introduction of the Italian Stallion as Stakar Ogord (Starhawk) hints at the original Guardians roster back in 1969.

The sanest member, who keeps the Guardians in check (at least when they’re together), is Gamora. As the mother hen of these irresponsible lunatics, the badass female assassin mollifies her colleagues whenever a hectic discussion breaks out. She also has to manage that “unspoken thing” with Quill as their sexual tension is soaring high, but the problem bothering her the most is the relationship with Nebula. Tragic episodes in their past will help we see the grunting sister (Gillan continued to overact a bit here) of Gamora in a different light, empowering the collective family sentiment.

Yondu has a more prominent role here as he has connections with both Ego and Star-Lord. A tough side character, he sneaks up on us and becomes the center of Volume Two’s emotional magnitude. Already brilliant as a coarse space pirate, Rooker also provided Yondu with magnetizing qualities of a father figure as the movie moves past his marksmanship and unveils his softer side. On the other side of the battlefield, the antagonists are the entire army of The Sovereign led by Debicki’s reverent Ayesha. The Guardians’ contract with them initiates the adventure—particularly the dispute between Quill and Rocket—and the joke regarding their arcade-style fleet sets itself up nicely.

Stephen Blackehart, Michael Rooker, and Jimmy Urine

The trailers did a great job concealing the plot to amaze audiences. There might be many on-going arcs, but they come together before the third act. All characters purposefully converge to one location in the end after a lot of obstacle-evading and investigating. Once again, the grand finale manages to push sentimentality even higher in the midst of explosions and crazy quips by pulling the right heartstrings.

Gunn’s ambitious decision for deeper writing weighed down on the narrative structure, making Volume Two only almost as satisfactory as the first film. Notwithstanding, this sequel heightens the Guardians’ madcap spirits with breathtaking visual style and more character-driven, senseless humor.