Monday, 8 May 2017

FILM: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 review

SPIRIT IN THE SKY
The Guardians are back: as bold, as funny and as spectacular as before, with added Kurt Russell.


Everybody wants to be in the last gang in town.
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Image copyright: Marvel Studios)



















As I said on Facebook, I was a latecomer to the joys of Guardians of the Galaxy. With no knowledge of the Marvel comic series, my first exposure was the sci-fantasy rough and tumble of the 2014 film. I’ve never been a fan of Star Wars, so seeing the rag-tag band of Peter Quill, a.k.a. ‘Star Lord’ (Chris Pratt), the sleekly lethal Gamora (Zoe Saldana), amusingly grumpy strong man Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), bitching, quipping and punching their way across the screen, made a refreshing change from the anodyne George Lucas universe. They were backed up by the wry, Bradley Cooper-voiced raccoon-alike Rocket and the scene-stealing, living twig Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel (the easiest pay day he’s ever had, I imagine: all he had to say were tonal and emotional variations on “I am Groot”.)

Also in the mix were an unrecognisable Karen Gillan as the nearly-all-robot Nebula, gunning for Gamora, and a mechanical-mohicaned Michael Rooker (late of The Walking Dead) as Quill’s nemesis/former comrade Yondu Udonta. Thanks to James Gunn’s frenetic direction, it was all fast and funny, with four of the misfits bonding together to become the Guardians of the Galaxy and – the fairly obvious but heartfelt subtext suggested – a surrogate family.

In fact, Guardians felt like it was being deliberately anti-Star Wars – which, at its worst, can be so straight-faced it must hurt the actors – particularly as it was topped off by kidnapped Earthman Quill’s choice mix tape which he was always playing on his Walkman, and which also soundtracked the action (look it up if you don’t know what a Walkman is). Commendably, a lot of research had gone it the choice of music, ranging from obvious contenders like ‘Moonage Daydream’ by Bowie to The Runaways’ more obscure but equally fine ‘Cherry Bomb’.

I thought that Guardians had the feel of one of those 1980s fantasy action films you’d see Kurt Russell in, so roll round to 2017 and it was pleasing to see the real thing in the early scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This was after a belter of a sequence that nails the appeal of the films: where three superheroes fighting a giant squid-like monster would normally be to the forefront of the screen action, here it’s backgrounded as the newly-growing, midget Groot throws shapes to the Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, narrowly missing flailing tentacles and tumbling bodies. The scene is funny, intelligent and inventive, the perfect set up for the film that follows.

There are plenty of set-pieces to enjoy, equally as good as anything in the first film: Quill and crew outwitting a pursuing space fleet, Rocket single-handedly and amusingly taking out Yondo Udonta’s crew, a homicidal Nebula crashing a spaceship into a cave in pursuit of Gamora…

Where this film scores over the first, though, is in the role the aforementioned Kurt Russell plays. He’s been searching the universe for Quill, as it turns out he’s his father; with a name like Ego, though, the Guardians should have been hip to something not being quite right. For all the characters, this more developed theme of what constitutes family spins out into their relationships with each other. Without in any way compromising the film’s anarchic style, this approach adds depth to the movie and is, in a number of scenes, very moving.

Russell is as good as ever, as are the regulars, with Karen Gillan allowed to give some background to Nebula’s motivation. Of the new recruits, the unlikely named Pom Klementieff shines as a na├»ve empath and there’s a surprisingly welcome cameo from Russell’s old ‘80s mucker Sylvester Stallone.

If anything, the film is slightly too long; the Quill/Ego storyline just keeps on going, but I guess with any sequel, the temptation is always to go bigger and better. That said, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is as refreshing, witty and entertaining as its predecessor, with the addition of some heart-warming sentiments and sensitive character moments.

How long ‘til Vol.3?