Monday, 1 May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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Parental Guidance

Director: James Gunn
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

Looking back to 2014, it's hard to believe how much of a risk the original Guardians of the Galaxy was. It was one thing to introduce Norse Gods and World War II soldiers to this ever expanding universe, but a gun toting raccoon and a walking tree with limited speech could've been too much for mainstream audiences. In actuality, the outlandish concept and lacking expectations worked in the films favour, resulting in one of the bigger surprises of that year.

3 years later, and in comes the inevitable sequel (also the 15th entry into the MCU). Already, the film has lost the general element of surprise, but that doesn't mean it's without any tricks up its sleeves. As the picture opens, a massive battle is set up between the titular group and an inter-dimensional monster. In typical James Gunn fashion, this is pushed to the background, with the focus cast on Baby Groot dancing to "Mr. Blue Sky". It's a wonderfully subversive manner to begin the film, invoking memories of Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode, "The Zeppo". It's also a great way of showing where the films priorities lie, as the humour, music and characters hold more importance than the action set-pieces.

After that, the plot finds the Guardians on the run from an alien race called The Sovereign, led by Ayesha (a great Elizabeth Debicki). They wish to see the group dead, pursuing in their drone ships, when they receive unexpected help. The source? Ego (Kurt Russell), an ancient being who says he's the father of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt).

After running from the loss of his mother in the first film, Peter Quill is now faced with the father that's been absent from his life. Chris Pratt does superb work in the role, selling the characters struggle to deal with this change in his life, while selling the comedic delivery throughout. Joining the cast as his father is Kurt Russell, who breathes life into the well developed and intriguing character of Ego. His inclusion serves as a personal crisis for Quill, who must deal with the entrance of his birth father, while realising that Yondu (a fantastic Michael Rooker) was the man who looked after him all his life. It's a well crafted storyline that's successful, thanks to the talented cast and James Gunn's handling.
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More than just an adorable marketing tool, Baby Groot is also a wonderful little scene-stealer. Wide eyed and curious, yet full of anger, he's a magnificently realised creation, finely performed by Vin Diesel. Serving as his carer is Rocket, who puts up a tough front, when actually dealing with a reluctance to accept he's worthy of friendship. It's a fine performance, sold exceptionally well by the ever reliable Bradley Cooper.

In regards to the new cast, Pom Klementieff proves herself as a standout, putting forth a wonderful portrayal as the innocent Mantis. Her character mainly interacts with Drax, acting as a surrogate daughter for him. Once again, Dave Bautista is the shining star amongst the spectacular cast, and while his character doesn't get much to do, his delivery of the lines makes for great comedy. The fragile sisterly bond between Gamora and Nebula is delved into, with time taken to explore their history. Both Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan deliver their fractured relationship rather well, building upon what was hinted at in the prior film in a natural manner.

Yet faults do lie within. A subplot involving a Ravager mutiny, led by a character named Taserface, doesn't work as well as intended. Yes, it yields some truly funny moments, with a search mission by Baby Groot proving especially hilarious. But it feels too much like a bridge, so other elements can reach the finale, as opposed to an interesting subplot in its own right. Not helping matters are how it splits up the group, resulting in a lack of character interactions that would be more than welcome.

Once more, the soundtrack assembles a wonderful collection of musical numbers. They slot into the film rather well, providing a good backdrop for scenes, or helping to accentuate the emotional moments in a first rate manner. Thankfully, the wonderful humour is ever prevalent, as many laugh out loud moments hit their mark with ease. While the finale may raise the stakes and deliver the expected sequences of explosive action, it never loses its emotional core. When you get to the heart of the film, it's a story about family (and not the first starring Vin Diesel this year). Be it about parents and children, siblings, or the titular family of misfits, the familial angle is effectively delivered.

Once you get past that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 won't be the wonderful surprise its predecessor was, what you're left with is a wonderful ride that's full of hilarity, emotion and terrific tunes. But then, it's worth praising a film that successfully uses David Hasslehoff for emotional resonance

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