Peter Quill and his motley crew are back in James Gunn’s visually-inflated and at times over-the-top sequel to his 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy. Set more or less in the present day, the new film begins very brightly with a terrific opening credits sequence which centres largely on the character of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). The universe we are in is a very familiar one with the rapid-fire action and visual effects to boot. You want a plethora of one-liners and characters mercilessly poking fun at each other, then you certainly got just that. But in terms of story line, this one is just a little thin. What were you expecting you ask? This is Guardians of the Galaxy after all. This is an integral part of that behemoth called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So it goes something like this – following a mission to protect precious batteries from an inter-dimensional creature, the Guardians find themselves under attack from a race named the Sovereign who really cannot abide the fact that the strange raccoon-creature named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) has decided to help himself to some of those power sources. Crash-landing on a planet, the Guardians are confronted by a celestial being named Ego (Kurt Russell) who claims to be Quill’s father. The buffed-up one is suitably impressed by Dad’s entreaties – come with me to my home planet Pete; there you can learn about your origins.
Meantime Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and his cohorts are having some troubles of their own. Exiled from the Ravager community for child trafficking (Sly Stallone turning up briefly as one of the upper echelon here), Udonta is employed by the Sovereign to seek out and capture the Guardians. A rebellion occurs in his group however when Udonta fails to demonstrate sufficient conviction in the mission of bringing Quill back to the Sovereign. On the planet, Ego has partly explained his own celestial status to Quill. Taken in somewhat by promises of immortality and infinite powers, Quill soon balks at the methods employed by Ego in his efforts to take control of the universe. There’s more than something of a tinge of The Empire Strikes Back here as megalomaniac Dad attempts to convince his reluctant son that the overarching scheme is justification enough for sacrificing his friends and the world he knows. The climactic battle between Quill and the Guardians and Ego is something of a mess, but it is saved by the lively figure of Baby Groot as he scuttles down a series of holes intent on destroying Ego’s brain. By this point the story, as is, has of course been superseded by the visual effects which are such a hallmark of the MCU. Does it matter a jot that Pete is trying to kill Dad by clobbering him with a rock? And what of this unspoken thing between him and Gamora (Zoe Saldana)? These are just mere incidentals. Gunn, his DOP (Henry Braham) and the vast team of visual effect creators want to maximise the spectacle here so that we will return for the undoubted Vol. 3. It’s not a subtle tactic on their part, but it’s highly effective.
Perhaps I deride just a little too much here. The truth of the matter is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is great fun, anchored as it is with some nicely-weighted performances from the likes of Chris Pratt, Saldana, Dave Bautista – as Drax – and Michael Rooker most especially of all as Yondu Udonta. The production qualities and special effects are just what you would expect from the MCU and the accompanying soundtrack is every bit as good as Vol. 1 was. It may lack much of the originality of its predecessor, but Guardians 2 does tick many of the boxes for this particular genre in spite of a somewhat muddled story line. And that final scene, involving a quite breathtaking display by dozens of Ravager ships, does unquestionably demonstrate that the series has abundant heart and soul – no bad thing when offset against the excessive effects which, on occasion, threaten to overwhelm. On the whole, it’s an entirely acceptable sequel as these things go. Two hours in front of the silver screen could be spent on far worse things this summer.