There’s a moment early in the film when an all-out melee happens just off-camera, and our attention remains on the adorable Baby Groot. It’s what Drax might mistake for a metaphor, one representing the narrative structure of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2. He wouldn’t be entirely wrong either, in a film that cranks the dial up on all of the franchise’s greatest hits but can’t quite settle on a single playlist.
Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his eponymous group of heroes for hire are polishing off their latest gig when Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) sticky fingers earn them the wrath of a powerful foe. Hitting the ground running, all hope seems lost until they encounter the mysterious stranger Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s father. Quill must come to terms with his relationship to his estranged dad, and decide what is more important: blood or his de facto family.
The first Guardians of the Galaxy film had the element of surprise about it, using a lack of audience recognition to get away with audaciously good storytelling. Writer/director James Gunn is acutely aware of this in approaching the second volume, turning many of the gags from the original up to 11. However, it becomes apparently about halfway through that literally nothing is giving the film any momentum or tension, replacing the high-stakes MacGuffin of the first film with a series of set-pieces and cameos that aim for short-term laughs. When that climax does come, in spectacular blockbuster fashion, it is almost throwaway and familiar.
There are, of course, some outrageously original moments. The entire sequence on Contraxia, a neon-hued pleasure planet, is a delight for the eyes and filled with Easter eggs. Likewise, a psychedelic series of light-space jumps results in physical character distortions that hilariously look like Tex Avery cartoons by way of John Kricfalusi. Yet GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 works best when it is focused on character. The odd couplings of Gamora (Zoe Saldana)/Nebula (Karen Gillan) and new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff)/Drax (Dave Bautista) are surprisingly touching. The film is at its most effective when Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Rocket team-up for shenanigans. The uneasy romance between Quill and Gamora is less successful.
There are no less than five mid or post-credit sequences in the film, a final bit of trolling by Gunn that knowingly winks at audience expectations. However, the entire movie is virtually one giant post-credit ghost monkey, with the immediate action severely outweighing any sense of overall coherency. Visually stunning and filled with some mind-blowing effects, there’s a lot of great story elements here. It’s just a shame Gunn couldn’t narrow them down and drill through to a singular core.