Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 5/7/17
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn, cameos by Stan Lee and David Hasselhoff

The Guardians Of The Galaxy return and immediately find themselves in more trouble than they can handle. After committing a grave offense against high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her people, the team narrowly escapes certain death when a mysterious being called Ego (Kurt Russell) saves them. At first, Ego appears to be a benevolent god of seemingly limitless power, but his keen interest in Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) suggests sinister intentions. While Quill struggles with Ego, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has to cope with her violent and vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is captured by a group of vicious bounty hunters. Everything eventually comes together in a wild free-for-all space battle where the fate of the galaxy rests in the tiny hands of baby Groot (Vin Diesel).

Having not seen the original, I had no interest in seeing this movie, but a group of us watched it in honor of a friend who recently passed away. I was pleasantly surprised by its camaraderie, action, and overall sense of fun. Chris Pratt is immensely charming as Quill, and his playful personality and solid performance set the tone of the film. Zoe Saldana is fantastic as Gamora and commands the screen whenever she appears. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket are delightfully dysfunctional, and Kurt Russell gives the most animated and energetic performance I've seen out of him in decades. What's nice is that each character is likable in their own way and no one is overly annoying or abrasive, unlike a lot of other Marvel characters. The film also boasts a strong female supporting cast, and Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, and Elizabeth Debicki are all deadly and fiercely beautiful.

The acting is quite good and the performances are genuine and sincere. In particular, Sean Gunn's brutally heartfelt delivery at the end of the film is especially effective. Chris Pratt continues to prove himself as a serious actor with a disarmingly mischievous gleam in his eye, and Dave Bautista's deadpan bluntness is wonderful. The nostalgic 70's and 80's pop music soundtrack nicely complements the tone of the film, although the butchered version of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" is like ramming an ice pick through your ears. The pacing is good for the most part, but the climax drags on WAY too long. The film could have probably been trimmed down to two hours and been much better. Marvel Studios continues to impress with high quality material, and "Guardians" is a surprisingly solid entry due to its high production values, colorful characters, and talented cast. As long as they can maintain this level of quality, there will undoubtedly be more sequels.