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"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2"
(2017) (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi: A diverse group of galactic heroes must contend with various family issues, including one's father and his growing and likely disastrous quest for more power.
PLOT:
Having earlier banded together to form an unlikely and highly diverse group of galactic superheroes now known as the Guardians of the Galaxy, half-human, half-star man Peter Quill (CHRIS PRATT), assassin Gamora (ZOE SALDANA), genetically engineered bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (voice of BRADLEY COOPER) and the hulking and seemingly indestructible Drax the Destroyer (DAVE BAUTISTA) have agreed to do a job for Ayesha (ELIZABETH DEBICKI), the leader of a highly advanced populace known as The Sovereign. With tree-like humanoid Baby Groot (voice of VIN DIESEL) in tow, they take on and defeat a huge monster, delivering valuable batteries back to Ayesha in exchange for handing over Gamora's mechanically enhanced and villainous sibling, Nebula (KAREN GILLAN) who vows to kill their father after she does the same to Gamora.

But with Rocket having stolen some of those batteries for himself, that results in Ayesha's forces giving chase through space. When all hope seems lost, most of those drone ships are destroyed in one instance by a mysterious figure who's later revealed to be Ego (KURT RUSSELL), Peter's biological father who he never met. Following the death of Peter's mother in the past, Ego -- a celestial god who has an empath, Mantis (POM KLEMENTIEFF), as his servant -- sent Yondu Udonta (MICHAEL ROOKER) to retrieve the boy. Instead, the smuggler and the rest of his Ravagers abducted young Peter and made him work for them. Ever since, Ego has been searching for his son and is overjoyed to meet him, especially since it appears Peter might be the missing link for Ego to expand his power even more.

While Peter, Gamora, and Drax accompany Mantis and Ego to his home planet, Rocket stays behind on the planet on which they crash-landed and works to repair their ship, unaware that Ayesha has sent Yondu and his crew, that includes the likes of Taserface (CHRIS SULLIVAN), Kraglin (SEAN GUNN) and many others, to capture the Guardians and return them to her. That doesn't go entirely as planned as Gamora manages to escape and eliminate Yondu's source of telekinetic power, all of which results in Taserface leading a mutiny. As they set out to deliver Rocket and Groot to Ayesha, Peter, Gamora, and Drax must contend with the discovery of Ego's master plan that doesn't look good for anyone but that celestial god.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I'll readily admit that when I first encountered the original trailer for "Guardians of the Galaxy" and saw that it was being released in August 2014, I wasn't at all impressed and figured it was yet another big-budget flick being dumped into the box office graveyard of late summer movie releases. After all, and not being a diehard fan or even being familiar with the source material, the trailer looked like a goofy and misguided concept that was sure to fail.

Boy, I was wrong. Not only did the film connect with moviegoers, but it also did the same with critics who, like me, were impressed and highly entertained by the antics of a talking raccoon, a humanoid tree with a limited vocabulary, a green assassin, a blue villain, a hulk who takes everything literally, and a character named Star-Lord who, in bygone days, would have been the sort of onscreen persona you might find in a Roger Corman-style, "B" sci-fi movie.

Going into "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" I obviously wasn't going to make that mistake again. Yet, I worried about the always present potential pitfall of any given sequel usually never being able to stand next to the original pic, especially if it did little more than rehash what we already saw or, conversely, go so far in another direction as to alienate fans of the original work.

Thankfully, returning writer/director James Gunn mostly manages to avoid both pitfalls in this second installment that obviously doesn't feel as fresh as the original (due to the novelty factor being absent) and suffers a bit from a lackluster overall plot, but nonetheless manages to be a fun and entertaining ride.

And most of that stems from the characters. Sure, the expensive-looking special effects are impressive and there's plenty of action to go around. But none of that would be worth a can of beans if we didn't like and care about those in the middle of all that visual frenzy. Not surprisingly, and considering the introduction of the characters and their identifying attributes was handled the last time around, here we get some decent character growth, with most of that stemming from a variety of family issues.

For Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), that arrives in the form of his biological daddy, Ego (Kurt Russell, who saves his son and others from a swarm of drone spaceships under the control of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). She's the typical sci-fi sort of leader of some highly advanced civilization (presumably symbolized by their golden skin) who wants them captured for stealing from her.

Also after Peter and his fellow Guardians is his "adoptive" father, Yondu (Michael Rooker), who abducted the boy in the past and raised him in his criminal family that's now turned against him, thanks to the mutinous way of one of his members (Chris Sullivan). He ends up being something of a kindred spirit to Rocket the cybernetically engineered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) who finally feels like he has a family with his new team, but doesn't know how to show that and thus continues with his usual shtick of being a sarcastic jerk.

Then there's Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who still has sibling rivalry (and then some) issues with her sister (Karen Gillan) who wants her and their father dead. Drax (Dave Bautista) still mourns for his family, something not lost on Ego's pet empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who's never had one of her own.

That's enough family issues to fill several shrinks' couches, and thankfully all involved don't let such material get too serious or depressing. It's the plot revolving around Peter and Ego, however, that fuels the main gist of the story. Unfortunately, and despite some potential, it's the pic's weakest element, especially once -- surprise, surprise (not really) -- dear old dad turns out to be a villain who must be stopped.

All of which results in big action scenes that might look busy, but aren't as interesting or entertaining as the smaller moments (especially since such material eventually segues into the standard comic book movie conclusion with characters bashing each other around).

Thankfully, the first film's humor has transferred over mostly intact, with plenty of funny bits to support the mediocre plot and enhance the characters and their interactions with each other. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) again steals the show, this time in baby tree form and as evidenced in the opening credits sequence where he dances to ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" as the rest of the team battles a huge monster in the background (yes, like before, the soundtrack is filled with plenty of mixtape era songs).

In the end, it's enjoyable and entertaining enough to earn a recommendation. I just wish the basic plot was as good as the characters. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed May 2, 2017 / Posted May 5, 2017


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