For the most part, Marvel Studios has created movies that follow a uniform story structure and tone that appease the mass audiences that eat them up. But “Guardians of the Galaxy” has tweaked that model slightly, and it’s a great thing.
The franchise starring the now-genuine movie star Chris Pratt as Peter “Star-Lord” Quill – and featuring the likes of Bradley Cooper as the perturbed raccoon Rocket, Dave Bautista as Drax, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, and Vin Diesel as Groot – is arguably the greatest payoff yet for Marvel.
After the first movie did better than anyone expected in 2014, the sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (opening Friday), keeps the mix of a sarcastic tone and an excellent soundtrack that helped the original earn over $770 million worldwide while adding some new elements that elevate the franchise.
Major kudos must go to writer-director James Gunn, who in an era when tentpole movies (especially superhero ones) have to be everything to everyone has been able to harness an atmosphere in the “Galaxy” movies that would soften even the most snobbish anti-Hollywood moviegoer.
Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has great action and a story that will keep you from drifting off until the next exciting fight sequence, the chemistry of the cast is what really makes it move. There are new additions to the Guardians this time around: Nebula (Karen Gillan), the sister of Gamora; Elizabeth Debicki as the evil Ayesha; and Kurt Russell as Peter’s father, Ego.
And that last part is where the plot really lies. Ego suddenly enters Star-Lord’s life and persuades him to go back to his planet. Ego, it turns out, is a living planet who has taken a human form to communicate with Peter. All the dots connect to explain Peter’s past.
Meanwhile, after the Guardians stole from Ayesha, she hires Yondu (Michael Rooker), the space pirate who you may remember from the first movie was the one who raised Peter, to track down the Guardians and reclaim Ayesha’s property.
The movie isn’t short on subplots. There’s Gamora and Nebula working out their differences, Drax’s hilarious sexual tension with Ego’s telepathic sidekick Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Baby Groot doing adorable Baby Groot things. The ending is wrapped up nicely, highlighted by Rooker’s Yondu, who shines.
I’ll leave it up to the superfans to determine whether this is better than the original “Guardians” movie (honestly, I think the two are equally fun), but what can’t be argued is that under Gunn’s watchful eye, this franchise is becoming a unique piece of counterprogramming from Marvel Studios. It sets itself apart from the Captain America and Iron Man movies with its colorful language and its insistence on not taking itself too seriously, which goes a long way.
Sometimes it really pays off to be the oddball in the group.