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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to meet Groot expectations

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.’

Marvel Studios/Disney/AP

2 out of 4 stars

Title
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Written by
James Gunn
Directed by
James Gunn
Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
Genre
Action
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

If you go to the movies often enough, especially superhero movies, you're bound to encounter a certain type of patron. Typically, this specimen will be male, ages 19 to 39, and found seated front-row centre. During the course of the film, he will guffaw, bray and applaud loudly at every single joke or plot twist or Easter egg, as if the material would be lost on his fellow audience members were he not to acknowledge it with such furious enthusiasm. The movie is just that hilarious and clever and loaded with deliciously subtle nods that only true fans would get, this man is here to inform you. If you don't get it, he will make sure that you do.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the 15th entry in the ever-expanding Marvel Studios canon, is the cinematic equivalent of this movie bro. The sequel is often loud, occasionally obnoxious and so consistently convinced of its own awesomeness that it will not, it cannot, stop pointing out everything that makes it so utterly wonderful.

This would all be fine, even expected, if writer-director James Gunn's film was just another one of the dozen superhero exercises that regularly clog the box office. But this is no ordinary exploitation of intellectual property – this is Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel's wild-card franchise that is supposed to zig where all its other products zag. Gunn's first Guardians film – with its wise-cracking raccoon, eye-popping design, engaging performances and, yeah, dirty jokes, but dirty jokes that name-checked Jackson Pollock – was a genuine breath of fresh air when it debuted in 2014, proof that not every comic-book adventure had to be as predictable and constraining as the Incredible Hulk's purple shorts. It was that rarest of Hollywood commodities: fresh, and even, in its own made-by-Disney way, a little dangerous.

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After the original earned $770-million (U.S.) worldwide – all without boasting a name-brand star or much built-in affection for a talking tree named Groot – a sequel was inevitable. But it didn't have to be this sequel, which swaps out amusement for arrogance, delight for disdain.

At least a dozen times, for instance, this new movie laughs at its own jokes – literally. The characters of Drax (an alien warrior) and Rocket (the aforementioned talking raccoon) regularly deploy punchlines or watch ones whiz by, and then cackle for what seems like minutes on end. (Some choice jokes pivot around the size of one character's turds and another's urgent need to urinate.) There is even a running bit about the fine art of winking at your audience. And if that is not enough to hammer home Guardians' particular brand of misplaced confidence, then the filmmakers hope snippets of seventies' AM radio pop will inject a sly bit of nostalgic levity into the proceedings. See, we're just here for a good time, not a long time – why else would Looking Glass, Electric Light Orchestra and Cheap Trick be blasting on the soundtrack?

It is tittering, unrestrained filmmaking at its most self-indulgent – high, as it were, on its own supply.

This cinematic smugness touches everything, all while clinging to the law of diminishing returns. The plot, for starters, is a weak facsimile of the 2014 film, solely designed to connect set-pieces that rehash best-loved moments from the original. Wasn't, say, that first prison-escape scene so funny and unexpected? Well, maybe you'll also like a new escape sequence that triples the body count while erasing the number of laughs and adding Jay and the Americans' 1964 hit Come a Little Bit Closer to the soundtrack, for no reason in particular? Oh, remember when hundreds of Xandarian space ships converged to battle Ronan's warship back in the first movie? That was mighty cool, so why not revisit that here but with an even larger fleet of space ships? Did you enjoy the Vin Diesel-voiced Groot? Good, because now he's a cute widdle Baby Groot, voiced by what sounds like Diesel on helium, and present in nearly every other frame.

Amidst this vast and unending galaxy of darkness, though, there are slivers of light. As the aptly named "living planet" Ego and unlikely sire to hero Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Kurt Russell brings a welcome level of gritty charm to the ensemble cast, his committed performance nicely bouncing off Pratt's lonesome Cats-in-the-Cradle shtick. Long-time Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker delivers a surprising wallop of emotion to his portrayal of blue-skinned outlaw Yondu, so much that he nearly steals the picture from Russell and the inescapable Baby Groot. And the cosmic set design is still admirably out-there, from Ego's lush Garden of Eden homeworld to Contraxia, a neon-infected planet full of robot prostitutes and other deep-space vices.

Yet all these small wonders are no match for the film's cocky repetitiveness, which acts as a windup to one of the more crass endings in modern superhero cinema. Usually, we can expect one or two postcredit stingers slipped in to Marvel films to either tell a joke or tie the film into whatever product is next coming down the production pipeline. (Think of the 2008's Iron Man, whose ending introduced Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, which paved the way for Thor, which paved the way for the first Avengers etc.) Here, though, producers shove a total of five such scenes into the film, teasing at least three potential films. The movie bro will surely be delighted. Everyone else, feel free to leave.

Algonquin comic book creator and TV producer Jay Odjick responds to the idea that diversity in comic book storylines is to blame for falling sales. Odjick is the creator of Kagagi, a superhero comic book series and TV show
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