Review by Drew Bittner
Basically: GUARDIANS Vol. 2 may not have all the answers but you’re in for an action-fueled, fun, and heartfelt set of questions.
What is ‘family’?
That’s the central question of this new movie, which sees Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) finding an answer to the most painful unknown of his life: Who is his father? Turns out the answer is Ego (Kurt Russell), who shows up after a bit of work for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) of “the Sovereign” goes horribly wrong—thanks to Rocket (Bradley Cooper).
But this jumps ahead a touch. The movie opens with a couple in love. Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) is with her special guy (Russell, convincingly de-aged), who she knows is an alien. They seem very happy…but it isn’t going to last.
Next, we find the Guardians doing mercenary work—for the aforementioned Ayesha—fighting a teleporting super-octopus called an “abelisk.” The opening sequence is delightful, but shows that there are problems for our heroes. They aren’t getting along: Rocket doing his own thing, Peter and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are struggling with interpersonal issues, Drax (Dave Bautista) is a loose cannon, and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is… adorable.
Beating the abelisk earns the team a special prize. They capture Gamora’s “sister” Nebula (Karen Gillan), who the Guardians plan to take back to planet Xandar for a bounty. However, an unwise decision leads to the Sovereign hunting the Guardians relentlessly. Rescued by an unknown ally they decide to help their savior out. Eventually they land on Ego’s world, and learn he’s been searching for the meaning to his existence, and Peter may well be the key to fulfilling what he considers his destiny…
Pratt shines as Star-Lord, showing equal measures swagger, uncertainty, loyalty and heart. His distrust of Ego is fair, as is the way he comes around. He is nearly all emotion in this, between wanting more out of one relationship to discovering something that shatters his world, he is the burning core of this story even more than the first. And Pratt is more than up to this challenge.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora has some challenges too, between coming to understand Nebula in a wholly new way and sensing that there’s more to Ego than he’s revealed. Her role is action-packed but she has some great scenes to dig into that highlight her skills as an actress.
Much like the first movie, Bradley Cooper has some truly devastating moments as Rocket. Even more abrasive and unruly than before, Rocket makes some bad choices—and only one other character figures out why. The unlikely bond that results forms a strong emotional subplot to the movie (but I really can’t say who it’s with or why without releasing some big spoilers). Suffice to say that Rocket has to make the hardest choice in the movie and struggles with the consequences.
Vin Diesel, on the other hand, seems to be having a blast as Baby Groot. Apart from a scene where the Ravagers “have fun” with the tiny treeman, he is round-eyed innocence personified. No longer the biggest and toughest Guardian, he nevertheless has a crucial role to play.
Yondu, played by Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan’s Nebula both evolve far beyond the rather basic antagonistic roles they played earlier. What was subtext (at best) before is now clearly stated; these two have serious issues that challenge Peter and Gamora in entirely new ways. It’s not an understatement to say viewers will have entirely different opinions of these two coming out of this movie, and that’s in no small part because Rooker and Gillan totally nail these roles.
Russell’s Ego is almost a summation of Russell’s career. Ego has all the overblown machismo of Jack Burton, the growly certainty of a Snake Plissken, and the slightly too-good-to-be-true charm of Dexter Riley (look it up). He has very big plans now that he’s found his son, but the ramifications of those plans might not go over well with Peter and company. They also learn the dangers of making a Celestial-level living planet angry…
All in all, the story revolves around a central premise: What is family? Is it the one we make for ourselves or the one we’re tied to by blood? What do we owe those who love us? And what are we willing to do in the name of love?
GUARDIANS Vol. 2 may not have all the answers to that, but it asks the questions anyway.
In the end: Go see it and stay through the credits. The last one may give hope to those who’d like to see a certain Marvel family come back to the fold. Just saying.