“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” will constantly be compared to its predecessor, but even so, it entertains with wit and zeal. Like the first, Guardians 2 is visually stunning, making the most of CGI, costumes, and character creations to present a colorful and interesting world.
Writer director James Gunn knows how to draw the finest out of the characters and make the best of special effects. Staying for three bumpers after the final scene is worth the wait as the film teases a planned third installment.
In Guardians 2, all the main characters return and with Gunn back behind pen and camera, the film prickles and satisfies with wild imagery, wicked wisecracking and rib-tickling banter. The first film pulled out the unexpected — a mixed box of characters, impressive CGI, a decent story and a kick-ass soundtrack — and turned it into a blockbuster.
Guardians 2 already had $133 million on the books before its official U.S. opening weekend, thanks to a limited early release campaign across the globe. Studio executives are projecting between $140-160 million this weekend, which would give the movie industry a jump on the summer blockbuster season. Thus far, 2017 box office totals are up 4.3% ahead of last year and that’s on top of a record-breaking 2016.
One reason Guardians 2 has built so much momentum headed into its opening weekend is the Marvel’s pre-release studio tour for Hollywood journalists, which included an early screening two weeks ago. On the doorstep of opening weekend, Guardians 2 has an 85% certified fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, where such a strong score in the blockbuster-action genre is often a good indicator of potential to exceed expectations.
Building on momentum from the first outing, the characters and the cast — including voice over talent — will delight audiences. It is in large part due to the chemistry of the actors that Guardians 2 will find a place in blockbuster-ness, even if its returns don’t end up matching the first (Vol. 1 earned $773.3 million worldwide and boasts a 91% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
Early on in Guardians 2, we are introduce to Ego, a ‘living planet’ played by Kurt Russell, who turns out to be Peter Quill’s real father. As his name implies, Ego has quite a high opinion of himself… a trait somewhat obviously passed down to Peter.
After meeting Ego, the story jumps 34 years and picks up right where Guardians left off. With a new sound track (not as great as the first) playing on his Walkman, Pratt plays the perfect hero — a man with a mission, a destiny and yes, a few flaws. His motley crew of super beings makes for a weird but caring family of squabbling and fervent champions.
Bickering buddies, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot (three repeated words — “I am Groot” — voiced by Vin Diesel) join forces to save themselves and the galaxy from a “god” larger and more sinister than one can imagine.
Russell is excellent as Ego, but even more impressive is the computer generated imagery used to offer up a thirty-something version of him for the film’s first sequence. Unlike Jeff Bridges in “Tron” or even Carrie Fisher (as young Leia) in the more recent Star Wars film, computer animators have created a near perfect, realistic rendering of the far younger Russell. If only we could actually turn back time like this.
Michael Rooker returns as Yondu, Peter’s kidnapper and father figure. Sylvester Stallone is on board as Stakar Ogord and is fantastic even in his brief role. Also added to the cast is Pom Klementieff as Mantis, an antenna sporting empath, who brings out some of the film’s more clever digs — especially when she interacts with Drax. Speaking of which, Dave Bautista shines again — Gunn gives him some hilarious zingers and his expressions are priceless.
There are other new and familiar faces making for engaging ensembles of good and bad guys and those in between too.
Ultimately, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” might not, to some, be as good as the first, but Gunn manages some authentic creativity, palpable suspense and vivid imagery as he tells his story, making it a standalone movie.
Does knowing the first help? Perhaps, but only a little. The PG-13 rating should stand as a warning, since there is death, a great deal of violence and a few scary moments in the movie. It earns a B+ in my grade book.