James Gunn knows his damn craft. The opening action sequence of GoTG Vol2 gives you a headline worthy of any interstellar newspaper: “Guardians of the Galaxy Defeat Inter-Dimensional Beast Abilisk to Save Us All!” in a brawl with said tentacled monstrosity and a Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) strutting to the groove of Electric Light Orchestra.
Why? Because this is superhero space opera at its finest. Complete with whiz bang kabooms and the kind of sappy drama you wouldn’t find out of place on noontime TV, not only embraced fully but reveling in its own Hallmark quality carbs overload.
And this is the stuff that this rogues’ gallery of reluctant misfits turned superheroes have become: a tight-knit operational killer of a family forged in the heat of war against Ronan, The Accuser and the subsequent trauma of holding an Infinity Stone in their bare hands.
“Family” and the definition thereof is a recurring theme running through the arc of this movie and it tests those bonds continually. But we’ll get to that later.
We pick up a few months after the events that unfolded in the first movie. The Guardians are now renowned throughout the quadrants and, as heroes for hire, their first contract is to defend those batteries for the Sovereign race: golden-skinned, genetically-enhanced, uber-tech, space-farers whose leader also happens to be a snob-nosed, high-strung high priestess named Ayesha (The Night Manager’s gorgeous Elizabeth Debicki), who disdains the Guardians’ scoundrel tactics as much as she needs exactly their kind of expertise.
In exchange for defending the Sovereign’s batteries, they are rewarded with Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s half-machine sister now wanted for intergalactic war crimes for her role as the sidekick of the Kree fanatic Ronan. They will take her to Xandar and eventually exchange her for reward money.
Things quickly go sideways when it’s revealed that Rocket (Bradley Cooper), true to form, has stolen some of the precious batts (note: same items they were supposed to be protecting). The sight of the reserved and haughty Ayesha (props to Debicki’s precision hamming) going full ballistic was, as Rocket Raccoon declared, quite worth the effort of the theft.
The ensuing chase doesn’t go in the Guardian’s favor and they crash into a nearby planet, where the last of the Sovereign fleet is destroyed by a mysterious stranger in a ship that looks like a flying 60s bachelor pod chair. He reveals himself as Ego (Kurt Russel), an ancient and mysterious cosmic being who, he also confesses, happens to be Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) father.
Ego convinces them to travel to his planet with him to learn more. The Guardians decide that Rocket and Groot remain with the ship to continue repairs and guard Nebula, while Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) will go with Ego and his sidekick Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Meanwhile, the Sovereign are still pissed and hire the mohawked blue Ravager blue Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker’s villainous mercenary from the first movie) to hunt down and capture the Guardians.
Thus split up, Vol. 2 earns its stripes as a group arc, cajoling character growth while testing their loyalties even if they’ve been separated for their own missions.
Even beset with inevitable pacing problems in a sprawling narrative, Gunn does his level best to give each character its due. Their histories and their moments are aptly heartwarming—whether it’s Nebula and Gamora duking it out and revealing the roots of their not-quite killer sibling rivalry in a childhood marred by the shadow of their father Thanos (daddy of the year, he isn’t) or Drax reminiscing about his deceased family and how he misses them.
But Gunn also reserves equal space for textural atmospherics aside from eye-candy firefights: snowflakes dropping onto the tongue of a disfigured Ravager on a Las Vegas-type entertainment planet sets the tone for an epic landscape shot that then pulls in to Rooker’s Yondu through a brothel window, grim-faced and amused as he hitches his pants up. Vol 2 has its filmic moments for sure.
Speaking of Drax, the big guy has even more audacious scenes that enhance his reckless abandon while showcasing his continuing endeavors (featuring some, uh, progress) to understand social decorum. One of the most hilarious scenes involves Peter Quill, his unabashed (and unrequited) feelings for Gamora, and an empath that’s even less skilled in tact than Drax’s “bull in a China shop” antics. Most of the humor he dispenses isn’t just spot on for his character, when he does laugh now we are laughing with him not just because things go over his head (even then, he might catch them because of his, uh, reflexes).
The Yondu and Rocket Raccoon story arc about how both developed major trust issues has its own brutally honest, not to mention circus-freaky, charms. And Baby Groot isn’t there for just adorable, aw shucks moments, his utility is now based on his size—his wide-eyed awe and mischievous propensity to frolic in the face of danger is now even more the moral heart of the group.
Peter Quill’s non-Earth lineage and the Ego storyline is, of course, a big focal point and sets up the big climax of this movie. It’s funny when you consider the production trivia that the original character of Ego The Living Planet was only allowed to be used after 20th Century Fox reached a deal with Marvel Studios; they had to return the Ego film rights because they changed the power set of Negasonic Teenage Warhead, a character that Fox used in Deadpool. Russel lends some much needed gravitas to Vol. 2 and provides just enough villainous charm (something just slightly off) disguised in a mystic, fatherly shell to make this story interesting.
As a standout, credit must go to Michael Rooker for infusing the blue-skinned Ravager Yondu with dimension, making the most of the scenes given to him by exhibiting restraint when needed even with the kind of flair you can only have with a flashing, almost half-foot tall mohawk fin urges you to go over the top. We saw flashes of his skill in his role as Merle in The Walking Dead, but Yondu is one of his finer character performances yet.
There’re plenty more goodies to discuss here, including the soundtrack curation (best use of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”), the cameos (watch out for a few '80s icons), and five (yes, five, so DO NOT leave your seats) post-credits scenes, but most of them fall into spoiler territory.
Vol. 2 is a raucous 136 minutes of a ride into space with some of the funniest, most endearing former criminals turned reluctant heroes you’d expect to find adventuring with a pocket-sized ambulatory tree.
Watch it on 3D and get an eye-popping dose of Yondu’s whistle-controlled yaka arrow cutting through enemies in the dark trailing red LED lights in its wake. Freaking magnificent.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Philippines and is now showing on IMAX, 3D IMAX, and 2D screens in Metro Manila theaters.
All photos courtesy of Marvel Studios