When James Gunn hit with the original Guardians of the Galaxy, back in 2014, the film took many by surprise. For those of us who had been following both Marvel’s careful universe-building gameplan (up to that point) and Gunn’s career – starting with his days at Troma, through projects such as PG-Porn and onto the low to mid-budget gems, Super and Slither, the tone of Guardians was less of a surprise. More surprising, perhaps, was the fact that so much of Gunn’s off-kilter sensibility shone through the Marvel house style.
Happily, that sensibility has been allowed full reign for the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, perfectly encapsulated by the opening sequence which involves the already in-situ Guardians battling a tentacled space beast accompanied by the glorious harmonies of E.L.O.’s Mr. Blue Sky. Gunn being Gunn, the focus of the battle is kept to the background while we follow Baby Groot dancing along to Jeff Lynne’s most famous tune.
It’s this kind of oddball choice that gives both volumes their charm, and that’s added to by a cast now fitting snugly into their roles. Chris Pratt, Zoe Salanda, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Karen Gillan are all clearly having a ball, and Michael Rooker and Pom Klementieff grab their expanded and new roles respectively with relish.
The stand out star of Vol 2 for me however, was Dave Bautista. His Drax is an immensly likeable character and Bautista kills every single line and beat with expert comic timing. Vol 2 has several great laugh out loud moments and Bautista is at the heart of many of them.
Newcomers (to the MCU) Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone provide welcome gravitas and there are several fun and surprising cameos for both casual viewers and Marvel geeks (like me). Russell in particular plays well against Pratt and it’s something of a clash of the charmers whenever they share screentime.
Vol 2 is bold in style and is easily Marvel’s most colourful production to date – in fact the film generally resembles a particularly fine LSD trip, with shining rainbow colours splashed around gleefully. It’s a welcome expansion to Marvel’s usual colour palette, and one which the forthcoming Thor Ragnarok looks set to continue.
Also welcome is the greater emphasis on family relationships – a theme layered across several different sets of characters and one which even manages to colour the McGuffin that drives the plot. If this McGuffin feels a little underwhelming at first (even though it involves the end of the galaxy as we know it) a little reflection reveals surprising depth at the ostensible villain’s plans (I’m being deliberately circumspect here to avoid spoilers).
This emphasis makes for quite an emotional ride too, and you shouldn’t be surprised if your heartstrings aren’t well and truly tugged upon by the film’s climax.
If Vol 2 outstays its welcome by ten minutes or so, and wanders a little too amiably here and there (hello, extended sojourn on the Ravagers’ ship), that’s a small price to pay to spend two hours in the company of such superb characters. Honestly, I’d happily spend two hours with Drax, just revelling in his blunt as a brick one-liners.
This e-number fuelled adventure is a full on funhouse ride and as much of a good time as can be had without losing your underwear, and Gunn has definitely hit two for two. Bring on the promised Vol 3, I say.
*** Oh, and in the tradition of Marvel’s post-credit scenes, Vol 2 features no less than five, and viewers are advised to stay until the very, very end…