e Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content
2014 brought us “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” an origin story for a collection of interstellar misfits who wind up having to save the galaxy. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” picks up not long after the first one ended and takes off running. We learn a bit more about some of the characters, and there’s some sweet, heartfelt material here, but mostly? It’s Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and company trying to save the galaxy once again, and doing so spectacularly.
The story mostly revolves around Peter finally meeting his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), and getting some answers about his past. There are a few side plots that intersect with the main one, but they’re all straightforward and make solid narrative sense. Really, though, action movies live or die on the quality of their action and the tone of the whole thing. “Vol. 2” delivers magnificently on both fronts. There are chase and combat scenes both up-close and involving fleets of spaceships. Where DC Comics has gone full gritty, Marvel Studios continues to bring us the movie equivalent of a really great roller-coaster. Thrills, some laughter, more thrills, repeat. There are some carefully-crafted heartfelt moments to flesh things out.
Our rag-tag group of heroes has gelled even further than they had at the end of the last film, and while they don’t always put the good of the group above their own, they do care about each other more than most of them would admit. The biggest character difference between the first film and the new one is Groot (Vin Diesel). The last film left him a tiny twig of his former self, and his maturity and intelligence have taken a big hit. Baby Groot is adorable and funny, but he’s also essentially a tiny tree toddler: useless in combat, and unreliable as a tiny errand-runner. He makes a great mascot, though.
The special effects are at least as spectacular as those of the first film, and include all kinds of weirdness, from a malevolent planet with a face to a quantum asteroid field (whose rocks appear and disappear randomly). Blue-skinned pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) is back, along with the gravity-defying arrow he controls by whistling. That weapon gets to star in its own action sequence, which is both awesome and a bit grisly.
This is a movie almost anybody can enjoy if they don’t mind not having 100% prior knowledge of everybody’s past. The characters are consistent and easy to understand, and good action is still good action even if you don’t know everybody’s origin story. If you prefer to know all that stuff going in, watch the first film. You don’t need to have seen any of the other Marvel Studio films, though. The “Guardians” are far off in space and largely unaffected by everything going on here on Earth.
Whether you want to see “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” is a pretty easy call. If you loved the first film, you’ll love this one – possibly even moreso. If you dislike Marvel Studios’ style or superhero films in general, stay away.
A parting note: as with all Marvel Studios movies, there are multiple bonus scenes during and after the end credits (which have a charming design and are worth watching), so don’t leave the theater just because the main story has wrapped.