'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' sputters a bit but provides plenty of laughs
A brash summer surprise back in 2014, "Guardians of the Galaxy" had, as they said in the old days, plenty of pep and, for once, a lot of jokes. Audiences responded to co-writer and director James Gunn's Marvel franchise launch; it had a breezy, what-the-hell air, and even with the usual quotient of digital fireballs and shades of doomsday blue and orange, the fun was legit. Chris Pratt, as the alien-abducted earthling with a difference, commanded an entertaining crew of misfit intergalactic bounty hunters, criminals and miscreants.
For the sequel, subtitled "Vol. 2" because sequels are sold by volume, not weight, Gunn has returned as director and writer. With the freedom a big hit affords, his sequel chases after all sorts of weirdo tangents. For example: At one point rakish Peter Quill (Pratt) and company find themselves in the middle of a potentially apocalyptic action sequence. (No other kind in these movies.) A makeshift anti-doomsday device is in the hands of Baby Groot, the miniature tree trunk creature voiced by Vin Diesel. Rocket the human/raccoon mutant, voiced by Bradley Cooper in the easiest money he'll ever make, needs some masking tape to mark off the end-of-world button so Groot doesn't make a fatal mistake.
Rocket gets no help, or tape, from his colleagues busy zapping enemies. The bit keeps going and it actually gets funnier as it goes, and for a second it appears as though the missing tape is going to become a major plot point. It's stupid-smart bits like those that make up for the more routine aspects of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2." In fact you could say the tape routine is the tape holding this thing together.
Let's be honest, because it won't cost us anything: This one's a step down from the original. The testy banter between Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, sidelined somewhat here) comes with a here-we-go-again quality, made more apparent by Quill's references to Sam and Diane on "Cheers," one of many earthbound '80s references defining his personality. The plot this time deals with Rocket's theft of the hallowed batteries belonging to the gold-plated natives of The Sovereign and the resulting chase and battles. Kurt Russell, stepping on over from "The Fate of the Furious" and looking like the happiest guy in Hollywood, plays Quill's long-lost father, a man named Ego with his own planet and a shadowy labyrinth of secrets. (Can any movie go five minutes these days without calling up images of our president?)
"Guardians of the Galaxy 2" features Russell's lengthy disquisition on the merits of the 1972 Looking Glass hit single "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," showcased prominently on the soundtrack alongside the rest of Quill's precious mixtape, by which he keeps the memory of his late mother alive. Watching Gunn's busy, clever, indulgent picture, I could've done without the use of oldies as ironically jaunty backing for slow-motion slaughter montages.
Also, that ending! Here we go again. The universe is about to be destroyed, again. Two guys are beating the spit out of each other for minutes on end, again. Gunn may be a far superior superhero storyteller to DC helmsman Zack Synder (one franchise over and to the right), but the endless fight sequence capping "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" evokes the endless-prime climax of Snyder's "Man of Steel." I double-dare Gunn, whose early thriller "Slither" promised great things, to get the third "Galaxy" picture down to the two-hour mark or less. Who'd complain?
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2"
2.5 out of 4 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content)
Running time: 2:18