Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This sequel to the 2014 Marvel film “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a lot of the same elements of the previous film, including a lot of violence, which comes in the form of space battles, hand-to-hand combat, a riot where people are shoved into space to freeze and die, lots of space-gun shooting, a spaceship crash landing, and a lethal arrow that burns its way through people, which isn’t overtly gory but is still pretty intense. A good amount of cursing and rude jokes; some scary images in the form of piles of bones and dead bodies; references to characters who were killed or died; some light romantic tension; characters who are implied to be prostitutes, and a scene that implies a character spent a night with them; and some grotesque images, like a cut-off toe.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ continues the snarky, self-aware vibe of the original, with some fantastic visuals and well-rounded characters. But like so many films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘Vol. 2’ is longer than it needs to be, with a plot that feels purposefully unresolved.
By Roxana Hadadi
For being part of a shared cinematic universe, it’s impressive how so many Marvel movies have managed to develop their own distinctive character—the family dynamics of “The Avengers” movies vs. the in-fighting nature of something like “Captain America: Civil War.” With all that in mind, “Guardians of the Galaxy” arrived like a neon bomb of sarcasm in 2014, focusing on a rag-tag group of screw-ups who were warily pulled into saving our existence. That vibe continues with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which amps the stakes in a typically Marvel way while also suffering from the same flaws so many of these films do.
Set an indeterminate time after the preceding film, “Vol. 2” picks up with the Guardians operating as hired hands, protecting worlds from space monsters or any other foes. This time around, they’re tied up protecting the Sovereign, a world of all-gold, holier-than-thou beings who think they are the most perfect creatures in the universe; when their High Priestess Ayesha Elizabeth Debecki (of “Everest”) notes that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, of “Passengers”), has an “unorthodox genealogy,” she both flirts and sneers.
But it’s impossible for the Guardians not to irritate someone, so they end up making enemies of the Sovereign after Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper, of “Joy”) steals the very batteries they were supposed to be protecting. With that act of totally believable and totally unnecessary petty crime, the Guardians kick off their next adventure, which involves fleeing the Sovereign and exploring the identity of Peter’s father, an unanswered question from his childhood. Is it really Ego (Kurt Russell, of “F8: The Fate of the Furious”), the mysterious man who saves the Guardians from a space battle? And if so, what does he want, asks Gamora (Zoe Saldana, of “The Book of Life”)—who is forced to face her own past in the form of her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), who tried to kill her in the previous film and who now wants revenge.
The team ends up being pulled in different directions during “Vol. 2,” and how the disparate storylines involving Quill, Gamora, and Drax (Dave Bautista, of “Spectre”) intersect with that of Rocket and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, of “F8: The Fate of the Furious”) concludes in a massive battle that also draws in the thieving Ravager who raised Quill, Yondu (Michael Rooker, of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), who has been abandoned by his federation of space pirates for his involvement with the Guardians.
There are complicated lines of familial affection, resentment, and loyalty tied up here, but “Vol. 2” does a good job navigating them all and developing the characters enough so that you mostly care. Questions about what individuals owe their families and why people choose who to trust or love are pervasive through “Vol. 2,” and the movie spends enough time exploring the dynamics between Gamora and Nebula and Quill, Ego, and Yondu to make the conclusions of those stories feel appropriate and earned.
That also means, of course, that “Vol. 2” is longer than the first film, and there are about 10 to 15 minutes here that could have been chopped—maybe one of the many CGI-filled space battles, or a surprisingly long sequence spent mocking Yondu’s Ravager foe Taserface (Chris Sullivan)? But to lose anything with the viciously adorable Baby Groot, or the no-filter conversations between the hilarious Drax and new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff), or even a bit of the angry rants from Cooper’s wonderful performance as Rocket would be a mistake.
There is enough great stuff here, from Russell hamming hard to Baby Groot instinctively wanting to blow everyone up to the prominent use of Fleetwood Mac in the movie’s soundtrack, that make “Vol. 2” worthwhile. But the bloat is a typical Marvel problem that has unfortunately affected one of its liveliest properties—as evidenced by the five post-credits sequences. That’s a lot to get through, even for a movie this fun.
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