What an oddball corner of the Marvel space-time continuum the Guardians of the Galaxy occupy! They can do quantum leaps between interstellar dimensions while bopping to carefree Seventies dance-pop on a cassette player. They battle big bad aliens while name-checking Mary Poppins and David Hasselhoff, and discuss their complicated interpersonal relationships through references to Sam and Diane from "Cheers." Their high-flying dogfights happen amid audiovisual arcade game nods to Galaga and Pac-Man.
You don't get more back to the future than this wholehearted embrace of sci/fi and golden oldies nostalgia. No franchise is so gifted at exploiting the popularity of superhero movies while satirizing the genre. "Deadpool" was too over the R-rated top. "Ant-Man" was too small scale for non-geeks. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is just right. It's hyperbolic nonsense wrapped in the colors of a neon rainbow, bouncing from one artfully wacky scenario to the next. Here it's sleekly futuristic, there it's older than mud. It's the world's silliest thrill show.
The film continues the threads we saw formed in the Guardians' initial appearance as small time mercenaries turned half-hearted defenders of the universe. We know that Peter Quill, a/k/a Star Lord, is a cocky swashbuckler with a neurotic core, the kind of fixable bad boy Chris Pratt was born to play. Zoe Saldana is his female counterpart as Gamora, a hard-fighting green gladiatrix with an ornery streak and a tendency to tell the girlfriend-craving Peter to drop the mushy stuff since such a thing as romance between their species could never happen for real anyway. Dave Bautista's Drax is a comically plain-spoken goliath, now trying to understand humor and laughing at every wrong moment. Voicing Groot, the massive walking extraterrestrial tree that was felled and returned to life as a cute little humanoid twig, Vin Diesel has his deep bass tuned to a squeak, while Rocket the genetically enhanced raccoon (spoken by Bradley Cooper) remains as abrasive as an electric grinder. His interest in once again saving everything from Armageddon is "we're really gonna be able to jack up our prices if we're two-time Galaxy savers!"
Here the threats arrive on jumbled story lines. A society of gold-colored tech nerds attack the Guardians for running off with a bag full of priceless light bulbs. Gamora's jealous sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) arrives to prove she's the family's most efficient assassin, by killing her sibling. A space army of Ravagers led by blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker), who snatched young, orphaned Quill from Earth and became his shady papa figure, comes after them to settle scores of their own. Meanwhile, in a nearby subplot, Peter meets Ego (Kurt Russell), the universal life force that actually created him. Peter and Ego have a heart to heart while interpreting the lyrics to Cat Stevens' "Father And Son," giving the maudlin song a feeling of real pathos.
Written and directed again with tongue-in-cheek flair by James Gunn (of "Sliver" and "Super" fame), this is first-rate goofy escapism. While the mentality and much of the dialog is obviously adolescent, this time the adventure includes some interesting concepts and emotional undercurrents, adding a neat bonus of heart. Russell gives a nuanced turn with the part as Ego reveals where the root word for egomania came from, much sharper here than in his current "Fate of the Furious" role. Russell moves through Ego's lifelong neglect of Peter, to his amiable warmth, and then his mercurial storming as if Ego was a classic alcoholic father. Of course there are oooh-and-aaah-worthy special effects, but they're not the entire story. "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is touching and bawdy, violent and hilarious, glamorous and goofy. It's as close as comic book movies come to being all things to all people.
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2"
4 out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content .
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