Marvel Studios is the McDonald’s of film. If you like its ingredients, you’ll never leave disappointed, always getting exactly what you’d expect. But every now and then you do get something rare and unique. In fast food, it’s called the McRib. In fast film, it’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”
The space-based sequel is among Marvel’s best because its “McPick 2” is made in the right order: Rather than undercut its seriousness with comedy, it takes its comedy seriously. Almost every other Marvel movie does the opposite, winking at the audience to remind us that whatever whopper of a threat we’re sold is really just a Happy Meal in dire disguise.
That lack of sincerity takes a big bite out of the tension faced by our heroes and those they’re trying to save.
“Vol. 2,” however, admits its less-intense intentions from the start: “I can clearly see you winking,” Drax (Dave Bautista) tells Rocket (Bradley Cooper) when the latter tries to pull a fast one. The pair is not afraid to shamelessly show their full deck of comedic cards amid their impending doom. That hand is not a slight but a welcome, forthright sign from a cinematic universe that is all too often unsuspectingly and unnecessarily silly.
Still, lightheartedness needs heart. And from Drax and Rocket to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), and the ever-blue Yondu (Michael Rooker), “Vol. 2” has plenty of it, with a beat that once again rocks.
Director James Gunn compiled another classic reel of retro hits that gives his sequel’s frenetic pace real rhythm: “Brandy” for the love story, “The Chain” for the breakup, and “Mr. Blue Sky” for the electric-like orchestra of outer-space sights and out-of-this-world sequences.
But “Vol. 2” also knows how to turn the volume down with its calmer, quieter connection between father and son.
It’s fitting that the ever-confident Kurt Russell is the star that gave us Star-Lord. He plays the only entity that could produce the pompous Peter: Ego.
Yet while their reunion is rightfully not relegated to the movie’s other storylines, it also drags on for too long, particularly when the pretense is a bit predictable. The sisterly squabble between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillen) is similarly ill-timed.
Both stories are neither bad nor unneeded; there’s just some fat on each—and really on all the new relationships and their accompanied dialogue in “Vol. 2”—that could’ve been trimmed. Like many a sequel, “Guardians'” goes for “Super Size Me,” which ends up being too many empty calories in one sitting.
Still, “Vol. 2” also does what a good sequel must to compete with and overcome its predecessor: surprise. In the final act, “Guardians” strikes all the right chords, countering every piece of gap-filling gristle with the sweetest of sentiments from its stars.
That a funnyman, a raccoon, and a blue alien with a red Mohawk can evoke more emotion and gratification than any previous McMarvel meal is a testament to Gunn’s grit in executing his vision. The man can cook.
And I’m lovin’ it.
4 out of 5