Guardians re­turns and it’s bet­ter than the first

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - JAKE COYLE

In James Gunn’s se­quel to his swash­buck­ling space Western, the Guardians of the Galaxy do their ver­sion of “The Em­pire Strikes Back,” com­plete with daddy is­sues but with a con­sid­er­ably more an­ar­chic spirit and enough acer­bic in­ter­play among its in­ter­stel­lar gang to make Obi-Wan blush.

The wild whiz-bang of the first “Guardians” and its glee­ful up­end­ing of superhero con­ven­tions was, I thought, not the sec­ond-com­ing oth­ers felt it was. Hav­ing sat through a me­teor shower of im­pos­ingly well-made Mar­vel prod­ucts, the too-pleased-with-it­self “Guardians” felt to me like an in­tensely scripted politi­cian try­ing to smugly crack wise.

When the mot­ley crew of scav­engers reunites in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” many of its tricks — the anachro­nis­tic ’70s hits, the ex­ot­i­cally foul-mouthed crea­tures — are not the sneak at­tack they were in 2014. But that turns out to be a good thing. No longer so busy ad­ver­tis­ing his movie’s genre trans­gres­sions, Gunn, who wrote and di­rected the se­quel, is free to swim back­strokes through his cos­mic, CGI-spiced gumbo.

It’s a soupy, silly spec­ta­cle that re­calls, if noth­ing else, the weird, kalei­do­scopic de­sign of a Par­lia­men­tFunkadelic al­bum cover. Gunn’s film also shares Ge­orge Clin­ton’s goofy ex­trav­a­gance (and in­cludes his song “Flash­light”), and a neon­coloured cast with its own Mother­ship.

There are two types in the uni­verse, Dave Bautista’s mus­cle­mound Drax de­clares early on. “Those who dance and those who do not.” In the “Guardians” uni­verse, which blithely mocks just about every­thing, this is close to a mis­sion state­ment. Whereas the first film fea­tured Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill on a far­away planet bop­ping to Red­bone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” the early scenes of “Vol. 2” find the Guardians bat­tling some gi­ant monster while Baby Groot — the ex­trater­res­trial tree turned sapling (voiced by Vin Diesel) — grooves to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky.”

The “Guardians” uni­verse, made up of such ironies and odd­i­ties, wor­ships at the al­tar of in­con­gruity. Ref­er­enced within are “Cheers,”

Mary Poppins, Look­ing Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” David Has­sel­hoff and Fleet­wood Mac’s “The Chain.” It’s the kind of wacked-out ta­pes­try that even Lind­sey Buck­ing­ham would find head-spin­ning.

While Quill re­sem­bles a clas­sic Han Solo-like hero, his fel­low Guardians — Zoe Sal­dana’s green­skinned Gamora, the caus­tic, Bradley Cooper-voiced rac­coon Rocket, Drax and Groot — are a multi-species band of out­siders. No two are alike in tem­per­a­ment or ge­net­ics.

Though they bicker end­lessly, they’re a cob­bled-to­gether, mul­ti­species fam­ily, just one more likely to trade in­sults than hugs. And the na­ture of fam­ily is at the cen­tre of “Vol. 2.” Quill, hav­ing lost his mother as a young child in the first film, learns that his fa­ther is a “ce­les­tial,” or de­ity, named Ego (Kurt Rus­sell), with a planet of his own cre­ation. The Guardians meet him after flee­ing the re­mote-con­trolled pods that pur­sue them when Rocket steals bat­ter­ies from Aye­sha (El­iz­a­beth De­bicki), the High Pri­est­ess of the golden-hued Sovereign race.

Re­turn­ing is Michael Rooker’s ex­cel­lent Yondu Udonta, who re­sem­bles a re­jected au­di­tion to the Blue Man Group and con­trols a lethal ar­row with a whis­tle. He’s hired to cap­ture the Guardians, but his char­ac­ter — who raised the or­phaned Quill — plays an un­ex­pect­edly emo­tional role in Quill’s jour­ney into his past.

The ef­fect is sim­i­lar for Gamora’s sis­ter Ne­bula, the Guardians’ fu­ri­ous pris­oner. Oth­ers are in the mix, too, in­clud­ing a brief cameo by Sylvester Stal­lone and, more im­pres­sively, Chris Sul­li­van’s mutiny­ing, un­for­tu­nately named pi­rate Taser­face.

All of the names, though, are kind of joke, as is much of the plot (bat­ter­ies?), the plan­ets and, well, the whole op­er­a­tion. In one scene, an es­cap­ing ship shoots through so many hy­per­speed por­tals that their faces go bug-eyed like Looney Tunes char­ac­ters, maybe re­veal­ing the films’ un­der­ly­ing DNA.

But while this “Guardians of the Galaxy” has no earnest be­lief in its sci-fi the­atrics (the cred­its ac­tion scene is largely just blurry back­ground to Baby Groot’s dancing), it be­lieves sur­pris­ingly sin­cerely in its char­ac­ters’ in­ner lives, the ones buried beneath their sar­cas­tic ex­te­ri­ors. “Guardians” takes place fur­ther in the reaches of the galaxy than any other Mar­vel movie, yet it’s the most earth­bound.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Zoe Sal­dana, left, Karen Gil­lan, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, are back to­gether in “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.”

CHUCK ZLOTNICK, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kurt Rus­sell plays Peter Quill’s fa­ther, Ego.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rocket and Groot are back.

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