- By Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
As with many sequels, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” takes every single thing (and I mean every tiny detail) audiences enjoyed about the first film and turns it up to 11.
Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is more of a jerk. Drax (Dave Bautista, a bit of a breakout character this time around) is dumber and more direct. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is all business. Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is impossibly cute.
And yet Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, whom Chris Pratt played with almost superhuman charm in a star-marking role in the first movie, is somehow a bit less Peter Quillish — less roguish and less interesting
Written and directed by James Gunn, who co-wrote and helmed the first one, “Vol. 2” juggles all sort of modes.
The comedy is broader and jokier. The action is more violent — in fact, between a whole lot of surprisingly scatological humor and a whole mess of death, “Vol. 2” leans harder on the 13 than the PG part of its rating.
The CGI is more flagrantly candy-colored and obvious — there are a few points where actors look a tad lost, very obviously in front of a green screen, looking unsure as to where they should be pointing their eyes.
Some of the weirder, more comic-booky elements of Marvel’s cosmic end make cameo appearances — you could hear a lot of lifelong Jack Kirby fans “whoo-hooing” when a certain coterie of bald guys with enormous heads in blue cloaks showed up on screen. (No idea what that means? Trust me, it doesn’t matter.)
After a brief and extremely disconcerting (think uncanny valley) scene of a young, CGI Kurt Russell wooing Star-Lord’s mother back in 1980 on Earth, we cut to 34 years later, when the Guardians are doing a job protecting a McGuff… um, some space batteries from a giant tentacled thing that likes eating them.
Remember how Star-Lord likes music? The team even sets up a stereo to soundtrack the fight. Remember how brilliant Star-Lord was dancing across a dead planet like a space opera Indiana Jones-via-Travolta in the first one? Remember how cute infant Groot was dancing to the Jackson Five in the last one? Guess who ends up getting down while a massive battle takes place slightly out of focus behind?
The crew is working for the Sovereign, a race of folks who look like living Oscar statues. In return for a job well done, the Guardians get hold of Gamora’s estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). After Rocket steals a few of the space batteries for himself, more out of compulsion than anything else, the Sovereign fleet attacks the Guardians’ ship, only to be stopped by a mysterious figure. After a bit of plot involving a crash landing, the figure reveals himself as Star-Lord’s long-lost father, a god (“small g”) called Ego (Russell — the non-CGI, 2017 version).
Gamora, Drax and Quill (who is thrilled to meet his father) head off to Ego’s planet, which is full of “Yellow Submarine” psychedelia (while George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” plays, if you needed everything to be a bit more on-the-nose) and meet a mysterious and very naive empath called Mantis (Pom Klementieff), complete with little antennae and enormous, animae-sized eyes.
Rocket and Groot remain behind to repair the ship and guard Nebula, which draws out the blue-skinned, red-finned Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and his crew of Ravagers. And we’re off.
Is Ego what he seems? Does Yondu have it in for Star-Lord? And what is up with the guy named Taserface?
Again, familiar beats are hit hard. Was there a jailbreak in the last one? Expect a jailbreak in this one. Will there be jokes about how literal Drax is? Oh my, yes.Will there be a massive battle involving lots of tiny ships versus a much better ship a la the final scene of the first one? Yes. Will the Guardians save the galaxy with the power of friendship and chosen family? Absolutely.
“Vol. 2,” for all its solid jokes and Easter eggs for comics nerds, can’t help but be less original, less charming and therefore a lot less interesting than the original.
Then again, if you are going to save the galaxy again, you might as well do it with vintage Fleetwood Mac playing in the background.