Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, David Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell
Runtime: 136 minutes
Release Date: 28 April 2017 (UK) / 5 May 2017 (US)
Matt C: Daddy issues. It's a theme that's often central to many tales within the superhero genre, particularly in the cinematic renderings, where the protagonist is dealing with problems stemming from an absentee father or the shadow cast by a paternal legacy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a few of these characters kicking around - Tony Stark, Thor Odinson - and now Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) joins their ranks when he finally meets his dad, Ego (Kurt Russell), for a reunion that may very well lead to catastrophe in this sequel to the enormously popular 2014 film.
When the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie was announced, many commentators assumed it was Marvel getting too big for its boots, using characters that had nowhere near the level of awareness the likes of Captain America and Iron Man enjoyed, the studio stepping out of their comfort zone of Earthbound shenanigans and into the cosmos. But even then Marvel seemed to know exactly what they were doing; the movie went on to make a huge impact at the box office, capturing the zeitgeist, with everyone leaving the cinema announcing "I am Groot". It was a bright, freewheeling, witty sci-fi movie that emboldened Marvel further, enabling them to forge ahead with their ambitious plans unabated.
So, how does writer/director James Gunn take his core cast onto the next stage without losing momentum? By developing probably the most important element of the original film: the establishment of a strange, unlikely, but burgeoning family unit; a dysfunctional mix of losers, rejects and damaged individuals who find strength in their shared outsider status. So, while the core focus is on the father/son relationship between Peter and Ego, the dynamics between the other Guardians (and some new faces) are given room to grow in often hilarious but also moving ways.
And yes, while the gags fly thick and fast, more than any other MCU film so far, it's perhaps the one with the most emotional heft as it understands that blood isn't always thicker than water, and that the connections we make to others outside the traditional family unit can often be more profound and affecting, shaping and defining who we are and who we can be. Gunn brilliantly balances the tone, expertly mixing humour and emotion so that the most important beats have the required impact. That he can continue to do this with another surprisingly perfect soundtrack featuring the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Cat Stevens and ELO alongside a stream of pop culture references (David Hasselhoff featuring far more than you realised you needed!) is just the icing on the cake.
The action's relentless when things get going, the special effects are wild and inventive, and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, arguably more so than the predecessor (there should be no complaints that Zoe Saldana's Gamora doesn't get enough to do here). Baby Groot will likely walk away with the most plaudits but Rocket and Drax probably generate the most laughs between them, David Bautista especially really letting rip this time around. Bar some references to Thanos, the film steers clear of acting as a set up for Avengers: Infinity War, and while stripping away the jokes and action would reveal a rather thin overall narrative that gets a bit indulgent and silly at times (but generally endearingly so), it seems that Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is less about moving various pieces of the MCU into different positions for the next chapters and more about reveling in the joy of this group interacting with each other and watching the resulting fireworks. And sometimes maybe it's okay not to worry about who's got what Infinity Stone and just sit back and enjoy the ride with this irresistible band of misfits. 8/10