Three years on from their first outing, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy return with Volume 2. The result is a difficult second album that attempts to rekindle the hijinks of the first with a popping-candy aesthetic, but sadly lacks in narrative drive.
The film opens in the 1980s. Quill’s father Ego (a digitally revitalised Kurt Russell) is driving down a highway in a Mustang with Meredith (Laura Haddock), stopping to plant a mysterious blue egg for reasons yet unknown. We cut to the team of misfit heroes, now led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), making a living as intergalactic bounty hunters. After a toe-tapping battle sequence featuring a giant Lovecraftian squid and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) boogieing to the Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky, the team is forced to divide. Quill, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista, who steals the show with his Thor-like approach to humour) travel to Ego’s home planet. This moon-sized creation of Ego’s own design is a hallucinogenic dreamscape, where bubbles pop into a kaleidoscope of colours and feel like the digitally rendered out-pouring of an LSD-induced trip. Once at home with Ego you can’t help but notice the many notable references to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with Ego resembling an even more unhinged Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Meanwhile the other half of the team, including Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot and their prisoner Nebula (Karen Gillan), end up in the hands of the Ravagers, the space-pirates from the first film lead by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who is attempting to right past wrongs until his crew mutiny. The divide in the plot is part of the problem with the overall narrative of the film, where the most successful scenes still rely on the squabbling of the Guardians in their totality.
The big bad of the movie is the endless pursuit of a race of genetically-engineered aliens, led by the golden-skinned Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). They make for weak villains but serve the purpose of being over-achieving jocks to the Guardians’ outsider misfits. Gunn gave us a breath of fresh air with the first instalment and there is a tenderness to the tale the second time around, where the message of the first is reiterated; namely, friends are the family you choose. This is most notable with the scope of Rooker’s character, who is given more than one moment to shine.
For eagle-eyed fans there are endless Easter eggs, yet the overall plot manages to remain in its own universe and unlike the other Marvel movies is yet to be crowbarred into the wider narrative (this is left for the post-credit scenes). The soundtrack, like the first, hides all manner of sins, boasting Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home to Me, Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain and Yusuf Islam’s Father and Son. The choice soundtrack, accompanied by the candyfloss aesthetic make for moments of fun, but it ultimately lacks the originality of the first.
Joseph Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh