For a science fiction space adventure with both a talking raccoon and a talking tree (or in this case, a talking root), it may be hard to believe it when I say I felt Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at times felt a bit too cartoony. Let me explain. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) aside, the original Guardians of the Galaxy was still grounded in the same Marvel realism that had been set up by all the previous films in the franchise, although with a subtle wink and vibe that differentiated it from the pack. Even if the stakes were a little over-exaggerated, it still felt as if they were part of the universe occupied by the likes of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.
Guardians Vol. 2, however, chips away slightly at that aesthetic. Peter Quill, aka Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the ragtag team of misfits still bring the same acerbic wit and charm that we all fell in love with three years ago, and I can’t wait to see Rocket and Tony Stark bromancing it up with some sarcastic banter over a new technological marvel that will save the galaxy. But director James Gunn tends to take some of the silliness a little too far at times during this second outing, pushing the tone a bit too far into far-fetched goofiness and pulling you out of the movie, if only for a few brief moments.
As the movie opens, the now well-regarded guardians are hired to protect a set of very powerful batteries from an alien beast-slug who wants to devour them for breakfast. The scene isn’t what you might expect, but fits right into the framework of the established brand. I won’t spoil it here, but it takes its cue from the title sequence of the original film while also taking it to the next level in a fun, authentic way. Your expectations are high for a rollicking good time after the final title hits the screen and the movie officially begins.
And Dunn does a terrific job of meeting those expectations (just missing an awesome Tango & Cash reunion by this much). After our heroes defeat the alien, it’s time for the Sovereign to pay up by turning over Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), which will turn a profit once the team delivers her to Xandor. But the Sovereign are easily offended, and when Rocket steals a few of the batteries for his own payday, they attack, leading us to the first of those moments that rips you from the movie as Drax (Dave Bautista) is dragged through a forest of trees when the ship crashes on a nearby planet.
This is where the team meets Ego (Kurt Russell), who pronounces himself as Peter’s father. Having helped the team fend off the Sovereign, Peter, Gamora and Drax accepts Ego’s invitation to visit his planet, where Peter begins to bond with the man he’s been searching for his whole life. At the same time, Drax bonds in a weirdly fun, romantic way with Ego’s “pet” Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who can feel your feelings and put you to sleep whenever she feels like it. Their relationship is funny and heartfelt, and even though it’s most likely a disaster waiting to happen, gives the percolating romance between Peter and Gamora a run for its money.
Meanwhile, the Sovereign, unable to let their grudge go, hire Yondu (Michael Rooker) to hunt the guardians down so they may kill them once and for all. But the moment Yondu’s gang of idiot thugs track down the ship (where Rocket and Groot are keeping guard over Nebula), a mutiny takes place, forcing Yondu to team up with his frenemies to guarantee his own survival. There’s a lot to like as the relationships between Yondu, Rocket and Greet evolve, scenes that include one of the cutest sequences in the film, as well as one of the most emotionally impactful endings I’ve seen in recent years. However, this partnership also brings with it one of the silliest segments of the film, one that’s enjoyable but way too ridiculous.
The best relationship that arises in this new film, though, is between the now baby Groot and the rest of the team. Where Guardians saw the building of individuals all looking to achieve their own personal goals into a solid team with one ultimate purpose, Guardians Vol. 2 is about how that team becomes a family. And no more is this evident than in how everyone interacts with Groot: Rocket is the protective father; Gamora, the doting mother; Drax, the older brother who picks on his younger sibling; and Peter, the fun but watchful uncle. Sometimes, they fail to listen and other times, they squabble over the smallest of things. But what family doesn’t? This dynamic correlates well with the overall theme of the film, which is all about building, reconnecting and being betrayed by family, both in blood and the ones built through friendship, devotion and love. What’s most important is that just because you may fight or do something wrong, it doesn’t mean you’ll be banished from those that have become your family.
Last year, both Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange) made it into my top ten films. I’m not sure Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will achieve that marker, but that doesn’t mean the the film isn’t a welcome addition to both the Guardians franchise and the Marvel universe as a whole. There’s no doubt it remains a rollicking good time, and as long as Dunn and the team behind the next Avengers film refrain from the goofier elements of Guardians Vol. 2, the pairing of this team dynamic with the rest of the Marvel universe is definitely one I’m eager to see play out. Bring on teenage Groot!
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Lowriders and Snatched. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.