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Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2’ Scores Another Hit

James Gunn delivers a sequel that does not disappoint

Credit: Marvel Studios

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his father (Kurt Russell) in the new "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2."

Three years ago James Gunn took one of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book titles, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and turned it into a blockbuster hit. Now those wacky space adventurers are back for “Volume 2” and it looks to be another chartbuster.

Companion viewing

"Cowboy Bebop" (1998 the series; 2001 the movie)

"Firefly" (2002)

"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

Three years ago James Gunn took one of Marvel’s lesser-known comic book titles, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and turned it into a blockbuster hit. Now those wacky space adventurers are back for “Volume 2” and it looks to be another chartbuster.

It is rare that a sequel leaves you as satisfied as its predecessor but “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” understands exactly what people loved about the first film and delivers it again. The key to the first film’s appeal was that we loved the characters and their whole dysfunctional family dynamic.

The "Guardians of the Galaxy" team first appeared in a 1969 Marvel Super Heroes comic and a more modern incarnation (on which the first film drew upon) came out in 2008-09. In comics form, the Guardians never achieved the fame or popularity of their Marvel colleagues, The Avengers or the X-Men, but the fans have loved them.

Credit: Marvel

"Guardians of the Galaxy" then and now in the comics.

The "Guardians" team of space adventurers is made up of Starlord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt); the green-hued Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the very literal Drax (Dave Bautista); the tree-like Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); and the talking raccoon (but don’t call him that) Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).

Director Gunn knew that the key to making the first “Guardians” film work centered on bringing the angry talking furball of Rocket to life. Not because Rocket is the main character or focal point of the comics or the film but rather because Gunn needed audiences to buy in 100 percent to this creature who had been taken apart and put back together or they wouldn’t likely buy into any of crazy “Guardians” universe. If he could make audiences believe in his CGI creation then everything else would fall into place.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) prove that CGI characters can be the best thing in a movie. Here seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2."

Not only did Gunn, his effects team and actor Bradley Cooper succeed, but the whole “Guardians of the Galaxy” film surprised everyone with how wildly fun and clever it was. Part of its box office success was that people loved it so much they went back and saw it repeatedly in theaters. I saw it four times in theaters.

Needless to say, fans have been eagerly awaiting the sequel, especially after word came out that Kurt Russell was going to play Peter’s father, a character that was depicted in the comics as a planet!

The first film established that Peter’s mother died when he was young and that a Ravager named Yondu (Michael Rooker) nabbed him off planet earth and forced him into a space pirate’s life. But Peter never knew who his father was. The first film was cleverly set to a soundtrack provided by Awesome Mixtape #1 that Peter’s mom left him.

The sequel plays out to Awesome Mixtape #2 and opens with “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” as we see a young Kurt Russell as Peter’s father to be. The sequel, like the original, is one part saving the galaxy and one part about how we define family.

The film’s charm is that the CGI effects, epic battles, and saving the universe hoopla take a back seat to the interplay among the characters. This is established in the opening scenes as the team takes on a space monster threatening the galaxy but the camera only focuses on Baby Groot dancing to music playing off of some makeshift speakers. The effects (which are kick-ass even in the background) and the action that most films would place in the foreground is simply a backdrop here.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) takes center stage while his friends fight off a massive space monster in "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2."

Although the scene relies a bit too much on Baby Groot’s cuteness (and he is damn adorable without being saccharine) it does do something genuinely clever. By putting the big splashy CGI in the background and the CGI character of Groot in the foreground it helps to make us forgot that Groot is in fact computer generated and Gunn creates the feeling that he is more concerned with his characters than the situations (no matter how dangerous, impressive, crazy or spectacular) he places them in. By doing that, he grounds the film in something that is thoroughly engaging — and dare I say real — and that is the characters and their relationships to each other. It is also self-deprecating in a way that big budget Hollywood movies never seem to be because they want you to constantly be aware of all the money that is up there on the screen.

Honestly, I could not care less what the storyline of either “Guardians” film is about because all I really want is an opportunity to hang out with these lovable misfits who bicker, call each other names, and complain about each other’s shortcomings but when the time comes, are always there to have each other’s back. And despite all the jokiness, it is also a film with a surprising amount of heart.

“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” (rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content) does not raise the bar on the franchise, but it delivers exactly what made the first film so much fun. Sure it is a tad too long and sometimes tries a little too hard for some jokes, but the overall effect is one of pure joy (tinged by a little well-earned sadness at the end).

Kudos to James Gunn for making a big budget, CGI-laden comic book movie that would probably be as much fun if you took away all the bells and whistles and just left us with the characters. Maybe the fact that he started his career in the ultra-low budget world of Troma Films where you really did have to create films out of nothing taught him that in filmmaking as in life, it is not the material things that are the most important but rather the more intangible things.

“Guardians” is my favorite Marvel franchise because I would be happy just hanging out with these characters no matter what they are doing, they do not need to be saving the galaxy to be fun. In many ways, “Guardians” reminds me of my favorite anime, “Cowboy Bebop,” in which episodes packed with action were just as enjoyable as the shows where essentially nothing happened.

So thank you, Mr. Gunn, for starting off our summer movie season on such a high note.

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