Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

3/4

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel

Rated PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action and Violence, Language and Brief Suggestive Content

Anyone who reads my reviews on a regular basis knows how tired I am of the superhero genre.  In fact, many of you probably think that I hate the entire genre.  This is not the case; I was excited for this movie and I can't wait to see "Thor: Ragnarok," since the thought of Cate Blanchett vamping it up and participating in some serious action scenes makes it hard to wait for November).  I just can't stand the bad ones where fan service and loyalty are used as a crutch for lazy screenwriting and pedestrian direction.  This is why I was disappointed by "The Avengers" and "Logan," for example, while I love Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy.  Although miles away from Christopher Nolan's masterful saga, "Guardians of the Galaxy" grew on me for the same reason: good writing and filmmaking trump shout-outs to Comic-Con regulars.  Oh sure, there's some of that here, but it's not all encompassing.  It's kept to the details and background, just as it should be.

The Guardians are back.  Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill (Pratt), leads a team of lovable misfits and weirdos including Gamora (Saldana), Draxx (Bautista), Rocket (Cooper) and Baby Groot (Diesel) who don't fit in with anyone except each other.  They've taken a mission to protect a set of batteries from an evil monster in exchange Gamora's sister Nebula (Gillan), whom they plan to turn over to Xandar for a huge bounty.  At this point, Rocket steals the batteries for himself.  Deeply insulted, the Guardians' former employers go on the attack but are saved by a mysterious ship.  When they crash land, their saviors follow them.  They are Mantis (Klementieff), who can sense people's feelings and Ego (Russell), who turns out to be Peter's father.

More than that I will not say.  I will say that the film's strongest sections are its beginning and its end.  The film sags in the middle, primarily because director James Gunn separates the Guardians.  The core appeal of the first one was the chemistry and interplay between these five characters.  It was a blast to hang out with them.  But by splitting them apart, Gunn robs them of their chemistry, of course, this gives Yondu (Rooker) a lot more screen time, but many of his scenes could have been left on the cutting room floor.  By the same token, the scenes with Star-Lord and Ego fall flat because of weak acting.  Russell is having a grand time, but Pratt falls flat.  His strengths are in comedy and his everyman appearance.  Heavy drama is not his strong suit.  He was effective in last year's "Passengers," but he had a strong screenplay and director.  That isn't really the case with the dramatic scenes here.

That said, the opening and especially the final act are a total blast.  Few modern filmmakers can put on the razzle dazzle like James Gunn (certainly not the lucky geek Joss Whedon), and his prowess shows.  They're exciting and a lot of fun.  The humor is appropriately warped and the tongue-in-cheek yet still legitimate tone that made the first film so much fun is achieved again but not as consistently.  Gunn takes things a little too seriously in the middle section, which robs the film of its charm.

There's a lot to like about this new adventure, and while it's not flawless, it's still a lot of fun.  The action scenes are thrilling and the humor is occasionally uproarious (the film opens with Baby Groot dancing to "Mr. Blue Sky" while everyone else fights the monster.  It's funnier than it sounds, trust me).  Summer at the box office has officially started, and the Guardians kick it off in a big way.

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