Friday, May 5, 2017

Second ‘Guardians’ is not quite great, but very Groot

By Steve Crum
It’s James Gunn’s fault—that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is such a fun, far-out space trip. As both screenwriter and director, Gunn has fashioned a highly successful franchise from a Marvel comic book series that began in 1969.  His 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy was a mega box office hit, and Vol 2 will likely top it. (Vol. 3 is already planned.)
This second volume is pretty terrific, a must-see. It suffers a bit from being a sequel in that characters are already firmly defined. (The revelation of their personas was a plus in the previous film.) In this second movie, the surprise factor of the first is mostly missing, save for Groot’s younger incarnation. That said, there are plenty of new characters and adventures that satisfy. 
For those who might be new to this block of the Marvel universe, Guardians’ central character is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka The Star-Lord, a half-human, half-Celestial. He leads a crew of mixed aliens that include a talking raccoon (Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper); the 20-something, human looking, green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax the Destroyer, a muscle bound brute with insulting humor (Dave Bautista); and Baby Groot (called merely Groot in the first flick), a tree-like humanoid (voiced by Vin Diesel).  Baby Groot measures about a foot high. Ah yes, the cycle of plants. 
Just accept that these five beings are on a continual, united quest to protect the universe…er,  the galaxy from harm. In the process, expect Looney Tunes zaniness. Go from there. 
The story opens in flashback to a Missouri town in 1980, and we are introduced to a young (digitalized) Kurt Russell as he courts the Star-Lord’s future mother. So Russell, called Ego, is also Peter’s dad. Flash forward to an unknown planet with an ensuing battle between the Guardians and a humongous, tentacled killer creature. From this point, the primary comedy relief is the adorable Baby Groot who, like a true toddler, tends to aimlessly wander during the mayhem. Throughout the film, Rocket tries to teach him basic survival, which leads to even more cute, funny sequences. Groot’s only comment, ever, is “I am Groot.” That phrase, having multiple interpretations, is a running gag lasting through the end credits. Speaking of such, be sure to stay until they shut off the theatre lights. Multiple scenes have been added. 
Our Guardian heroes encounter dozens of wild, colorful, wicked, and vengeful types. Expect Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), a blue-skinned pirate featured in the first Guardians installment. He’s the one with the deadly arrow. His part has been extended and expanded. Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) is High Priestess of the Sovereigns, a race of gold-covered beings. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is the robotic looking, adopted sister of Gamora. 
However, most of the plot centers on Ego and Peter, a cataclysmic father and son relationship. 
Incidentally, casting Chris Pratt as the lead is genius. His brilliant, arrested development, man-child Andy Dwyer in TV’s Parks and Recreation seems to be a close cousin of the more savvy and responsible Peter Quill. Both are free spirited and unconventional. 
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PS: Look for a fast cameo by David Hasselhoff, and an extended cameo by Sylvester Stallone. Leave us not forget Stan Lee. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+