As with most sequels, especially those that tend to be either eccentric or unexpectedly a little off-beat, there’s an obvious disadvantage when compared to the original. In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there’s three. One: it’s not as fresh. Two: the surprise is gone. And three: It doesn’t have 10CC’s I’m Not In Love to kick things off.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes at the screen in full throttle, balls to the wall, and even though that impressive element of surprise, even delight, can’t be replicated – how can it when we’re already aware? – there’s a lot of fun to be had, mostly in the first half. The second is a different matter.
In Vol. 2 that motley gang of assorted and unlikely comic book, intergalactic oddballs are now officially The Guardians. They’re for hire, and they have a job. They’re to retrieve some valuable stolen batteries from some inter-dimensional, over-sized monster, all teeth and tentacles, and hand them back to their rightful owners; in this case, the head-to-toe, golden-hued, Sovereign people, lead by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).
Payment from the Sovereigns is more of an exchange: the batteries for Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) unpredictably troublesome sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan) whom the Sovereigns have as a prisoner. At first, everything goes well. The Guardians kill the beast, retrieve the batteries, hand them over, and get Nebula back. It’s just that the genetically engineered bounty hunter raccoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) can’t keep his thieving furry hands to himself; he walks away with some of those valuable batteries hidden in his bag. The Sovereigns give chase, another battle in space ensues, and the real story begins. And that’s just the first ten minutes, which even includes a prologue on Earth back in 1980. And if that sounds exhausting, wait until you get passed the sixty minute mark.
Like the 2014 original, Vol. 2 continues with the expected self-deprecating, self-referential humor, full of Earth bound junk culture references made mostly by Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, and much of it is genuinely funny, made all the funnier when the other Guardians have no clue what he’s talking about. When Quill has a lover’s spat with Gamora, he equates them both to TV’s Diane and Sam, to which the green colored alien declares, “I have no idea what Cheers is!” There’s also a Mary Poppins reference when Quill compares Michael Rooker’s buccaneer Yondu to the Edwardian flying nanny. “Is he cool?’ asks the blue-skinned alien. When Quill answers, yes, he is, Yondu declares, “Hey, y’all. I’m Mary Poppins!”
Like some comedies of late, there’s even some Python inspired humor in the mix. When the villainous idiot leader of the Ravagers declares himself to be called Taserface (Chris Sullivan) because he believes the sound of the name will strike fear in all his enemies, his crew look at each other, shrug, mumble among themselves, and ponder whether that’s actually true. “It’s metaphorical!” the leader angrily declares. Though, director/writer James Gunn overdoes it with the David Hasselhoff jokes. They’re funny at first, particularly when Quill reveals an aged, folded picture of Hasselhoff from his pocket, one that he carries around with him, pretending to others that the Knight Rider driver is really his dad back on Earth. But later, during a funeral service, the reference is repeated, and repeated, and repeated yet again. Enough with the Hoff.
Also, as with the original, the seventies/eighties music mix is often used to great comic effect. For personal taste, the awesome volume 2 cassette mix for Quill’s Sony Walkman, the one that he carries in his pocket (presumably next to his Hasselhoff picture) is not as good as volume 1, but there’s plenty to enjoy.
Quill and Gamora do a slow, romantic dance to Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home, George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord is played when the Guardians enter the colorful realm of an idyllic Garden of Eden type planet, a seemingly peaceful Shangri-La of outta space, and Silver’s Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang provides the soundtrack to one of the many explosive space battles. ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky runs through the opening credits, danced to by the adorably cute Baby Groot who steals the movie (again, voiced by Vin Deisel, though this time at an appropriately speeded-up, higher pitch). Funniest of all is when Quill and his real father, Kurt Russell as a cosmic Celestial god called Ego (not a spoiler; it’s in the trailer and it’s what the film is really about) discuss the lyrics and the meaning behind Looking Glass’ Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) as if it’s an inspiring and important work of English literature. Though the most effective is Cat Stevens’ Father and Son that comes across as an unexpectedly touching moment that – don’t laugh – may even move you.
The second half is more a case of overdoing everything. What story there is left to tell is told through the action, and while it may all be eye-poppingly spectacular, courtesy of everything CGI, it’s also waaay too much. Like those Hasselhoff jokes, writer Gunn doesn’t know when to stop. At one point, when things looked as though they might be wrapping up and there was little conflict in the narrative left, a quick glance at the watch indicated that – yikes! – there was still another forty-five minutes to go. Clearly, the studio wanted more of what made the first one work, but at a running time of 137 minutes, that’s really an indulgence. It’s as though Gunn poured everything in and forgot to say when. 2001: A Space Odyssey was only five minutes longer, and that was a large-scale epic.
The adventures will continue with a third; the end credits tell us so. The characters are eccentric and colorful, the music is good, and the humor is often laugh-out-loud funny. Marvel has a good thing going with the Guardians, and it constantly makes fun of itself, which is just how this kind of nonsense material should be. But don’t ruin it, and don’t over-do it with the action and it’s gluttonous length; use some brevity next time. That way, fingers crossed, what was fresh in Vol. 1 won’t become stale by Vol. 3.
MPAA rating: PG-13 Length: 137 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)