Walking out of the theater, I swear I could feel cavities forming in my mouth and I can assure you that it wasn’t a result of any concession stand bingeing. No, it’s because for over two hours, I was immersed in a world that resembled the inside of a one of those little packets of Fruit Gushers I used to eat as a kid and the phantom feeling of carefree childhood sugar highs swept over me. Colorful, flashy and calculatingly cool, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2reminded me of when I first discovered a love for comics and superheroes in school playgrounds, serving up a heaping dose of nostalgia over the treacly, emotionally manipulative sweetness of Star Lord’s thematically appropriate mixtapes. Those Gushers would sit in the bottom of my lunch bag as I’d climb to the top of the monkey bars, book in hand, losing myself in new universes and mythologies.
I didn’t come across Star Lord and company till much later in the game, but that made the unlikely and exciting debut of Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 all the more novel and thrilling. Vol. 2 took this formula and extended it into a sequel, a carbon copy that doesn’t quite match up to the debut Guardians — cinemascapes look cut and pasted from the first, dialogue echoes the original, and character growth feels bloated and temporary; as if the Guardians will reset themselves as soon as the credits roll because, well, of course they will. Kurt Russell as Ego the Living Planet (who was mystifyingly reworked as a godlike Celestial in the film — but don’t get bogged down in the details, there’s too many gaps for the logic to hold) and Star Lord’s melodramatic daddy issues were just a temporary detour — after all, we need the Guardians back to their witty, off-kilter selves for their big Avengers debut next year.
The thing is — and right off the bat, as obvious as this may be, it has to be established — Vol. 2’s strengths aren’t in emotional exposition. Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) share a B-plot that is contingent on our knowledge that they’re sisters. Their backstory is poorly developed onscreen, and their attempts to kill each other throughout the whole film are apparently forgotten when they remember they’re family — expended effort that led to more impatience than emotional payoff for the viewer. The relationship between Ego and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is possessive and, frankly, creepy, as Mantis — portrayed by a woman of color, joining Saldana and Bautista in an otherwise entirely white male cast — is introduced under Ego’s ownership of sorts as a shy and timid empath whose formidable ability is reduced to that of a glorified handservant. She supposedly finds family with the Guardians, specifically Drax (who constantly insults her appearance and composure, one of the film’s few glaring comedic duds), but again: no backstory, no reasoning for her motivations behind joining or even helping this strange, altogether somewhat hostile (to her) space crew.
Vol. 2 focuses on the relationship between Star Lord and his aforementioned newfound father, Ego, played by a smiling, benevolent Kurt Russell sporting some luscious, swept back 70s hair (apparently, Ego decided this is what mortal beings looked like and really just… ran with it). The plot takes off by introducing some fascinating new worlds, not the least of which include the paradisiacal surface of the living planet itself, a grimy spaceship and robot concubine planet housing an expansion of Star Lord’s estranged ravager crew, and a race of willowy, golden-toned aliens practicing a darkly comedic form of galactic elitism. But this bit of world building eventually gives way to storyline ridden with excess CGI battle scenes, predictable life-or-death situations, and a regrettable father-son reunion that’s not as emotionally effective as it thinks it is. A five-second close-up of Pratt at the climax of the story, his face capturing a lost, broken man, is about the most elegant that Vol. 2 gets at depicting its own emotional stakes; everything else broaching the subject is painfully blunt, bogged down by dialogue that name drops “family” one too many times.
Bless Baby Groot, who adds a levity to these messy proceedings that reminds us that, oh, yeah, we’re watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
This isn’t to say that you’ll regret the price of admission, and Marvel is right to expect to rake in the big bucks with this one (but, like, what else is new?). The sun’s out and summer’s coming, it’s getting just a little too hot outside, and there are worse ways to spend your afternoon than with a cold fountain drink and two hours of laughs and easter eggs. Just like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is a stuffed homage to its bright comic book origins, and the dynamic between Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoë Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) hearkens back to those fuzzy, feel-good Saturday morning cartoons that preached family and teamwork between fast-paced jokes and one-liners. Does Marvel effectively reinvent (or rescript) the wheel here, like they subversively managed to three years ago? Not at all. But this is a movie that features Baby Groot busting out his dance moves in a strategically adorable opening credit sequence, a movie where an emotional heart-to-heart between a trigger-happy Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) devolves into a gleeful prison break-out (never mind the mass murder that ensues — we’re in a superhero movie, dammit, and the 1964 hit “Come A Little Bit Closer” is ironically juxtaposed over the exaggerated violence anyway, effectively nulling whatever discomfort we might have with Yondu’s hypnotic, lethal arrow work). In the moment, you’ll wind up full, happy, pleased — Vol. 2 is sweet, it’s light, and for the most part, it’s fun. For most of the movie’s admittedly overlong runtime, you’ll sit in the theater with the satisfaction that you got what you paid for.
Author: Alejandra Salazar
Editor: Ammaarah Mookadam