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Thursday, May 4, 2017 12:01 am

Darker Guardians 2 is still great fun

 

If James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was Star Wars for the 21st century, then its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, is surely our new Empire Strikes Back. The writer/director seems to be adhering to the George Lucas space opera template, as this entry in the series is darker than the first and focuses on family dynamics – father-son relationships, both biological and surrogate, in particular – to effective dramatic success. That’s not to say the film is all doom and gloom; far from it, as Gunn and his game cast provide plenty of irreverent humor amidst the surprising pathos that, for the most part, works.

If the film has a fault, it’s that it’s guilty of trying too hard during its first act to please its audience. The opening credits sequence finds our heroes Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gomora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (David Bautista) and Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) doing battle with an inter-dimensional octopus thingy intent on stealing some supercharged batteries belonging to the Sovereign, an alien race of perfect beings – or so they like to think. This throwdown takes place in the background, as the main focus of the scene is fan-favorite Baby Groot (voice by Vin Diesel), oblivious to the carnage going on, headphones securely on his head, dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Yes, it’s a moment of pandering, but great fun all the same.

The crux of the story is Quill’s long-awaited discovery of his father, who turns out to be Ego (Kurt Russell), a God-like creature that’s transformed himself into a living planet but can change his form at will. This reunion is met with skepticism by the young man, that is, until his parent reveals to him the power they share and his dream of creating a peaceful universe with his help. Meanwhile, the Sovereign have hired Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers to hunt down the Guardians because Rocket just happened to steal a couple of their precious batteries, Gomora is trying to make peace with her homicidal sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Drax is wrestling with feelings of affection for Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a creature who can experience the emotions of anyone she touches.

There are many moving parts here, and Gunn keeps his various plotlines relatively uncluttered and clear, though another scene or two between Gomora and Nebula would have been welcomed. However, it’s the relationship between Quill and Ego that’s at the core of the film, which is really about the expectations we have of family, the complications that ensue between generations and the bond that exists between those who form their own makeshift clan. Disappointments, revelations, reconciliations and sacrifices all play a part of this grand familial epic, as each of the Guardians must come to terms not only with who they are but what they mean to each other.

That Gunn is able to examine these themes with the degree of poignancy he does is unexpected and surprisingly powerful. Space battles, belly laughs and cutting-edge special effects may be what sells these films, but at their heart has been the idea that acceptance of those who are different from ourselves is what not simply makes the world go around, but the universe function. Delivering this heartfelt message in such an entertaining package helps it go over a bit easier without undercutting its meaning or power.

Sharp-eyed viewers and those with knowledge of the characters’ comic book backgrounds will be able to surmise where this franchise is headed and just why Sylvester Stallone pops up a time or two here. While some may be adverse to the film’s darker tone, there’s no question that GOTG Vol. 2 continues in the Marvel tradition of providing smart, rollicking entertainment that further expands on their brand and universe in a fun, vibrant way. I can’t think of a better way to start the summer movie season.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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