Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
The Guardians are back, battling space monsters, planets and princesses, all to the tunes of another killer '80s soundtrack.
Pare back the impressive special effects and constant wisecracking in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and you soon come to realise...there's not a great deal of story to speak of. After a lifetime of searching, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) finally finds himself face to face with his estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell), from whom he quickly learns the truth about both the power and importance of his lineage. The question, though, is what's driving Ego's sudden appearance in Quill's life after such a long absence? Beyond that, there's actually very little going on in the film, aside from an entirely superfluous secondary plot involving a genetically-engineered race of conceited aliens (led by a gilded Elizabeth Debicki) who are hell-bent on killing the Guardians over a tiny spat from the opening scene.
In the absence of plot, then, what drives this film and keeps it (for the most part) engaging are the relationships. For Quill, that means both a developing closeness with his father and an ongoing attempt to progress what he terms his 'unspoken thing' with the green-skinned warrior Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Gamora, in turn, is preoccupied with the increasingly complex and fractious relationship she has with her vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) – by far the movie's most compelling and nuanced dynamic. Close behind that comes the foul-mouthed Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), whose proclivity for sabotaging friendships and avoiding emotional closeness comes under the microscope in a surprisingly tender way.
Less moving, but always entertaining, are the two remaining Guardians: Drax, the forever-literal powerhouse (Dave Bautista) and Groot, the tree creature turned sapling (voiced by Vin Diesel). Groot proved a fan favourite in the first Guardians film, so naturally he has a bigger role here. With those enlarged Disney ™ eyes and a propensity for dancing at inopportune moments, Groot represents at once the film's most consistent comedic device and tweaker of heart strings. To say his merchandise will sell well after the film's release might prove the single largest understatement of 2017.
Of course, a review of a Guardians movie wouldn't be complete without mentioning its soundtrack. As in the first film, here we find a compilation of '80s tracks that well and truly earns the 'Awesome Mix Tape' tag. 'Mr. Blue Sky' by ELO, 'The Chain' by Fleetwood Mac and 'Surrender' by Cheap Trick are just some of the album's top-to-bottom highlights, used throughout the movie with such design that it's almost a character unto itself. Then there's Cat Stevens' 'Father and Son'. Already one of last century's most moving ballads, its deployment in the final stages of the film hits you in the feels so hard that you stand zero chance of wrenching your tear ducts shut in time.
Admittedly, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels less innovative than its predecessor, with writer-director James Gunn mostly expanding upon existing plot lines, jokes and action sequences rather than inventing new ones. Still, it's an enjoyable ride, and there's clearly more to come (be sure to stay through to the end of the credits through which you'll catch a full five additional scenes and teasers).