The second volume of James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy saga has far brighter, funner and scintillating moments than his first go-around, only “suffering” from some minor issues in pace and tone. That said, The Living Planet named Ego is truly a sight of 70s-psychedelia to behold, thanks to a knock ’em dead performance by Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight) and some terrifyingly eye-pleasing CGI. As Peter Quill’s Big Daddy Cool, Russell chews up every scene he’s given — even breaking down lyrics from Gunn’s “Awesome Mix” like a hippy critic from Rolling Stone mag; while Chris Pratt‘s Star-Lord comes off a little too wide-eyed. The whole frat boy lost in space nature that dominated the first movie is understandable, but the schtick does get old fast. It would’ve been great to see some character growth that didn’t have to wait until the climax of the third act.
Maybe I read too many comics. Thankfully so does Gunn, as the rest of GotG Vol. 2 takes a lot of excellent character cues from the original DnA (Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) run of Guardians. Nebula (a broodingly excellent return for Karen Gillan), empath newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Quill’s surrogate-pops Yondu (The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker) — to which we get to learn far more about the Ravagers and their lifestyle, much in thanks to the addition of Sly Stallone — are all on spot-on from the panels on the page. Nebula’s “family matters” with Father Thanos and Sister Gamora (Star Trek Beyond‘s Zoe Saldana) are further explained and semi-resolved, and many of the film’s strongest scenes find themselves with both of these nice young ladies. Dave Bautista‘s Drax is somewhat of a break-out. I say somewhat, cause I’m still not sold on that over-laugh. I found myself laughing at his laugh, and not along with it — although that may be the point. Either way, many of the best quips and comedic timing comes from the former WWE champ, especially in his Tinderific scenes with Mantis, overuse of the whole “big, naive dummy” gimmick or not.
My favorite performances this side of Russell’s Ego, however, come from Bradley Cooper‘s Rocket and Baby Groot, although I wish more of their interactions were with their other squad members. The way Coop’s Rocket responds to every shot at his spotted-furry appearance is absolute cinematic gold, while Mini-Groot (Vin Diesel) is infinitely–and undeniably–precious. Just wait till you see all the “gifts” he brings a Ravage-locked-up Rocket and Yondu back from his lil’ stealthy limbs. There are so many awesome scenes like this one in Volume 2 that should make you forget the movie is called Guardians of the Galaxy and not GoTG: One-Shots. For better or worse, much of the plot separates the chemical family aspect that blessed the original while everyone’s chief motivations are seemingly familial-based. Uh-huh.
Even at its most familiar, there’s a lot to love about the sequel to GotG and it wouldn’t be right if there wasn’t going to be a third. So, if you loved the hell out of the first flick, seeing many of the same beats used again likely won’t bother you. There’s a lot of heavy action scenes saved by Gunn’s quirky-timed humor (Vol. 2 is an arguably funnier film). One instance sees the genetically-engineered Sovereign race going all ridiculous retro-arcade/VR cheese-mode during a full-blown space battle. While these “goldmembers”, fronted by the bourgeoisie leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), only come off like idle threats, there’s a thankfully unexpected central villain twist that should surprise everyone not reading into every bit of pre-released trailer footage. A Marvel Universe movie with a strong Marvel Universe villain? I can surely sing along to that.
Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 in theaters everywhere on Friday, May 5th.
***BONUS REVIEWS: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – VIDEO GAME & COMIC BOOK***
Oh, Guardians — I’m not done with you yet. Hot off the presses this morning comes a “oddly” timed All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1 comic from Marvel, while Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series video game was released just two weeks ago. Yeah, it’s definitely a hot time to be a fan of this motley crew! As for the console games, if you’re familiar with any of the Telltale adventures at all, you’ll notice a distinct difference in the art direction for GotG and that of its predecessors. Although the misfit alien/cyborg group led by a half-alien(celestial?)/half-human are known for being over-the-top cartoony, this game’s visuals lend its hand more into realism than the comic book aesthetic. And it works (despite likenesses betraying those solely into the movies), in a sort of DCU animated movie sort of a way. It’s a cartoon, but it’s dark.
As for the plotting, the GotG Telltale Series starts off more Volume 1 than Volume 2 — where they haven’t yet reached that familial solidarity. Yeah, they fucking want to kill each other. It’s up to you (Quill) to choose who you’re going to side with throughout “Tangled Up in Blue” — although it’s unlikely you’re ever going to go against the graces of Gamora (and why would you, for more reasons than one?). That also said, The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe has all the best lines. She’s also given more to work here than the movie I saw last night (rather than the one-note assassin who turns pearly-eyed when her “Star-Lord” saves the day). Strangely, I also felt more empathetic towards this Quill after seeing flashbacks with his mom at a young age, than the statuesque figure we only see lightning brief as a hippie sugarplum in Vol. 2’s opening scene.
No surprise on the voice acting end either, seeing Nolan North shine as Rocket Raccoon. You’d think it was coming from the mouth of Cooper unless you were familiar with North’s extensive resume. I wasn’t that big of a fan of Scott Porter‘s Peter Quill, but I’ll get over it. Episode 1’s writing is real funny (have never laughed this much playing a Telltale game before, or too many other games in general for that matter), the 80s-tinged music is spot-on, and the two major action sequences are better than most of the Telltale stuff I’ve played before. Hell, you won’t believe who you have to face.. that quickly. Controller-wise, there seems to be some precision to be had when firing off those laser pistols. And that jetpack! Verticality in a Telltale game. Yes. 3.75/5 Galactic Bibles.
And so comes today’s comic book. The first thing you should notice about All-New GotG #1 is the rad and quirky art of Aaron Kuder (Green Lantern: New Guardians). Although I enjoyed overall what Telltale did in differing their GotG visual world from that of, say, Borderlands or Walking Dead, I’m a fan of art that fits the product. That’s why Neal Adams and Batman always went together–dark meets dark. Here, Kuder’s zaniness captures all the flying aliens and shiny debree. His Grandmaster comes off like an even more pompous version of The Collector from the films, and even his line on the rivalry justifies it. “In fact, [my collection] exceeds that gaudy hack’s accumulation of baubles. I’ve always had better taste”.
As you can see by that quote, Gerry Duggan (Deadpool) knows how to pen character dialogue. Although Gamora is still, once again, best executed in Telltale fashion (she also has her own solo title too, so that helps), Duggan’s Drax, Star-Lord, Baby Groot, etc. are far more moviesque than the hero-thieves first read in DnA’s run. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as any comic with “All-New” on the label should capture as much mainstream fancy as it can. And just wait till you see the new capabilities of the Devour of Worlds not named Bray Wyatt. The constant banter between Drax and Quill during their heist is especially entertaining, and Rocket — to no surprise — is the shining star. Damn, that wittle wascal seems to be the shining star in all three Guardians of the Galaxy entertainment mediums. Duh! 3.5/5 One-Leaf Haircuts.