‘Guardians 2’ fa­mil­iar, but fun

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When the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out three years ago, it was a mi­nor rev­e­la­tion. Here was a comic-book movie with char­ac­ters few out­side of rabid Marvel fan­dom knew about that had heart, hu­mor and a cool sound­track. What’s not to love?

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” feels less like a fresh dis­cov­ery and is far more self-con­scious about its quirk­i­ness. Di­rec­tor/co-writer James Gunn re­turns with what’s es­sen­tially more of the same; there’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing and, at 15 min­utes longer than its pre­de­ces­sor, it has mo­ments that sag. Still, “GotG 2” at its best is a lot of fun, even if it now seems the “Galaxy” for­mula has been set for the many se­quels surely to come.

Much as with that other be­he­moth of a fran­chise star­ring Vin Diesel, “The Fast and the Fu­ri­ous,” “GotG” is all about mis­fits find­ing fa­mil­ial bonds with each other. This time around our re­luc­tant hero from the last film, Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), is re­united with his fa­ther, Ego (Kurt Rus­sell), who aban­doned him many years be­fore and Peter never knew why.

Peter gets to put the miss­ing puzzle pieces to­gether as Ego re-en­ters his life, promis­ing him things that just may be too good to be true. It turns out Ego can do pretty much what­ever he pleases and even has an en­tire planet of his own where he lives with a fe­male em­path, Man­tis (Pom Kle­men­ti­eff). How cool is that?

Mean­while, Gamora (Zoe Sal­dana) is deal­ing with an an­gry sis­ter, Ne­bula (Karen Gil­lan), who wants her dead. Groot (voice of Diesel), who’s now Baby Groot since he’s a twig from the char­ac­ter in the pre­vi­ous movie, wants love and at­ten­tion from his adop­tive par­ents, aka the rest of the Guardians crew. Sep­a­rately, Yondu (Michael Rooker), the thief who raised Quill, can’t stand that he’s fallen out of fa­vor with his fa­ther fig­ure, gang boss Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).

While all of this is go­ing on, our he­roes are on the run from some ethe­real, gold­plated hu­manoids be­cause Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), the rac­coon crea­ture, stole some of their bat­ter­ies (don’t ask). The wise-crack­ing Rocket comes across as a guy who says he doesn’t need any­one else but, un­der­neath the furry non­cha­lance, you just know he’s to­tally ride-or­die for his “fam­ily.”

The mus­cu­lar and per­pet­u­ally shirt­less Dax (Dave Bautista) makes a ro­man­tic con­nec­tion of sorts with Man­tis and their ex­changes pro­vide some of the film’s fun­ni­est mo­ments.

Then there’s the ’70s-fla­vored sound­track which, as in the last movie, is some­thing of a char­ac­ter it­self. While us­ing Look­ing Glass’ 1972 pop hit, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” to open an in­ten­tion­ally cheesy movie about space ad­ven­tur­ers or have Groot dance to Elec­tric Light Orches­tra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” might seem like just a knowing wink to boomer grand­par­ents, by the time the film ends sweetly with Cat Stevens’ “Fa­ther and Son,” the mu­sic has taken on an un­ex­pected emo­tional res­o­nance. It’s per­haps a too-ob­vi­ous choice in a film about the im­por­tance of fam­ily and find­ing strength in those around you but it works and, be­sides, how much sub­tlety do you want in a movie with a talk­ing rac­coon?

Oh, be sure to re­main in your seat through the end cred­its as there are five — count ’em, five — ex­tra scenes in­serted. Not only that but, if you stay, you get to hear “Flash­light,” the 1977 hit by that orig­i­nal group of in­ter­stel­lar mis­fits, Par­lia­ment/Funkadelic. “GotG 2” may not have its pre­de­ces­sor’s shock of the new, but any film that in­tro­duces the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion to P-Funk can’t be all bad.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2,” a Dis­ney-Marvel re­lease, is rated PG-13 for se­quences of sci-fi ac­tion and vi­o­lence, strong lan­guage, brief sug­ges­tive con­tent. 2 ½

“The Lovers”

Azazel Ja­cobs’ “The Lovers” is a com­plex char­ac­ter study of long-term re­la­tion­ships that takes a clever premise — what if you were cheat­ing on your lover, with your spouse? — and uses it to ex­plore the nu­ances and ul­ti­mate truths of long term re­la­tion­ships. The film is an­chored by a duo of pow­er­house per­for­mances from De­bra Winger and Tracy Letts, who play mar­ried cou­ple Mary and Michael, with an arch so­phis­ti­ca­tion mixed with gen­uine vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Mary and Michael have slipped into a mar­i­tal mun­dan­ity, co-ex­ist­ing as cor­dial room­mates who barely speak to each other, rarely lis­ten, and seem more awk­ward around each other than any­thing else. We aren’t given much his­tory to their re­la­tion­ship, but as we know it to be now, each spouse pours their en­ergy into their extramarital lover. For him, it’s a kooky, needy dancer, Lucy (Melora Wal­ters), while she has a sil­ver fox of a writer, Robert (Ai­den Gillen).

But even those re­la­tion­ships have hit the skids in some ways. Play has be­come work in their af­fairs, and their pas­sion­ate, emo­tional lovers re­quire a cer­tain amount of up­keep that Mary and Michael don’t seem to be will­ing to give. Sud­denly, the per­son they sleep next to be­comes more and more ap­peal­ing, and a wild, se­cre­tive af­fair is born, com­plete with lunchtime romps.

“The Lovers” finds it­self in its mo­ments of de­tail, speci­ficity and still­ness. Long pauses punc­tu­ate the ac­tion and serve as punchlines for the of­ten word­less vis­ual hu­mor. Both Letts and Winger ex­pertly ex­press their char­ac­ters’ men­tal state phys­i­cally, whether fraz­zled or down­trod­den at their less-than-ex­cit­ing jobs, fraught with un­easi­ness or com­fort­ably ten­der with each other. There are times when it can feel a bit too man­nered, too tight, and you wish for the film to cut loose a bit. When it does, dur­ing a visit with their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), and his girlfriend, Erin (Jes­sica Sula), the ten­sion cracks in un­ex­pected ways, though the break is a wel­come re­lief.

One of the unique stylis­tic choices that Ja­cobs makes with “The Lovers” is the grand, sweep­ing or­ches­tral score, com­posed by Mandy Hoff­man. It’s un­ex­pected for a smaller ro­man­tic in­die drama, but it gives the film a sense of a ro­man­tic epic while fol­low­ing the quo­tid­ian rou­tine of this cou­ple. It adds a layer of ar­ti­fice to the film, sig­ni­fy­ing that this is a height­ened re­al­ity, and in­fuses ev­ery frame with drama and ro­mance.

While there are times that “The Lovers” feels a bit too stul­ti­fy­ing and stiff, the warm per­for­mances from the un­der­rated Winger and Letts make the emo­tions at hand come to life, fill­ing the screen with mo­ments uni­ver­sal and divine, which is es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult with such morally com­plex char­ac­ters. They prove their might as great screen ac­tors de­serv­ing of more roles, but “The Lovers” is not about them as in­di­vid­ual per­form­ers; it’s about these ac­tors work­ing in tan­dem with each other, the script, the di­rec­tor and the other ac­tors. The film works as a whole, not a sum of its parts.

The story it­self is un­ex­pected, al­most like a fa­ble in the way it un­packs the story of the long-term re­la­tion­ship — the norms and ex­pec­ta­tions; the dan­gers and pit­falls. It’s a cau­tion­ary tale that never passes judg­ment, an ex­plo­ration of the way that love can be a manys­plen­dored thing, with many peo­ple, some of them twice.

“The Lovers,” a Robb Rosen­feld Film re­lease, is rated R for sex­u­al­ity and lan­guage. Run­ning time: 94 min­utes. 2 ½


De­bra Winger and Tracy Letts star in “The Lovers.”

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