Whilst the general consensus is that the Marvel cinematic universe as a whole is one of the more consistent entities for audiences and critics alike, their track-record for delivering underwhelming sequels (at least compared to their predecessors) is hard to quarrel against. Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron are all arguably lesser products than their forerunners, so it only seems feasible that there be a sense of caution when approaching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2.
The 2014 original played out very much like a film that had nothing to lose; its cast was considerably less A-list than the Marvel entrants that came before, and its ability to not take itself too seriously was a quality that the comic-book brand was severely (and surprisingly) lacking. For this second go-around, none of the fun, irreverence or inventiveness that writer/director James Gunn injected into part 1 has been lost as the dazzling action, spitfire dialogue and finely-tuned soundtrack all flow with an energetic ease.
As we open in 1980’s Missouri where a digitally youthenised Kurt Russell hints at a grander, more intergalactic involvement for his mysterious character, the catapulted action to present day where the titular motley crew face off against an oversized creature of sorts as the pint-sized tree-creature Baby Groot (unrecognisably voiced by Vin Diesel) dances on-screen in the foreground sets the tone for what’s to come.
It could be easy to accuse the film of perhaps giving us too much to digest as every character has his or her own plot arc to flesh out, even supposed side characters earn more screen time than one would expect, but this only ultimately strengthens the film and reiterates the ensemble mentality it strives for. If we’re not following Peter (Chris Pratt) on his quest to learn the true identity (and intentions) of his father Ego (Russell), it’s the brutal sisterly feud between the green-skinned shapely figure of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the deceitful, near-robotic Nebula (Karen Gillan) that earns our attention; the banter between the all-too-literal Drax (a scene-stealing Dave Bautista) and the soulful alien Mantis (Pom Klementieff) provides welcome comic-relief amongst the family drama on hand.
It goes without saying though that Vol. 2‘s at its most enjoyable when Baby Groot and the short-tempered, trigger happy racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are at the forefront, the duo infused with so much heart and personality that it often escapes the viewer that we are witnessing a created effect instead of an actualised creature.
As the credits assure us these Guardians will be back, this second volume wraps up just enough to keep us satisfied, although in true Marvel fashion there are sequel storyline possibilities hinted at in the slew of post-credit sequences (there’s no less than 5 on offer here) that indicate the seemingly random cameo from Sylvester Stallone and the no-nonsense demeanour of Elizabeth Debicki‘s Golen High Priestess await greater duties.
Evoking the weird wonderment of the original, as well as planting its feet in a more self-assured position, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another movie marvel for a studio that continues to live up to its namesake.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in Australian cinemas today.