Heh, that Japanese poster on the left made me chuckle when I first saw it so I thought I’d share. So, we finally push confidently off into blockbuster season yet again dear friends, although this arguably has already left the starting blocks with the latest instalment of Fast And The Furious franchise whose continual success remains a total mystery to the Menagerie*. The original Guardians is among my favourites of the magnificent Marvel movie multiverse, for a number of clear and concise reasons. Firstly I loved the freedom they had with the oddball characters who weren’t enmeshed in nervous studio executive intellectual property / branding cages, I was beguiled by the scintillating Jack Kirbyseque cosmic backdrops and Gunn’s impish sense of humour, and I just loved the fresh approach to the MCU which was becoming encumbered by the intrinsic weight of cross referencing demands and the emergence of new superhero clichés – origin story chains and reboots, final act villain plots that involved orbital beam doomsday weapon countdowns, mainstream, unchallenging three act tedium, tired and template CGI chicanery. Among this environment Guardians emerged as a lovely, freshly minted bubble-gum sensation of unadulterated blockbuster exuberance which didn’t treat the audience like imbecilic, dollar spawning gnats. Accordingly when Gunn and the same team were announced for the inevitable sequel I was on board for another adventure throughout the further intergalactic reaches of Stan Lee’s starflung cerebellum.
Whilst I left the first movie with a beaming, rictus stamp of appreciation on my face the second time around elicited more of an agreeable grin, as although some of the vitality of meeting these characters for the first time has waned this is still another agreeable, colourful romp which plays to Marvels usual formula – we’ll come back to that. The gang of rogues are in the midst of a mission, headed by interstellar kidnapping victim Starlord (Chris Pratt), disgruntled green-hued assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), socially boisterous tattoo ogre Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), sarcastic vermin ordinance specialist Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and infant elemental spirit Groot (Vin Diesel) whom after sacrificing himself in the last picture now has reached the inquisitive fledgling phase of his bizarre photosynthesis lifecycle. As the film opens in a tour de force credits sequence the mercenaries best an inter-dimensional threat at the behest of an arrogant gold hued species known as the Sovereign. After their business relationship sours a frantic escape leads Starlord into the path of a powerful entity known as Ego (Kurt Russell), both sporting a remarkable genetic alignment which makes you wonder if the CGI boffins didn’t conduct some secret pixel presdigination. The encounter of his father – no, this is not a spoiler its in the trailer and occurs in roughly the first 15 minutes of the film – leads him on a revelatory path to unearth his true patronage and destiny. We’ll leave it there for now, also returning to the fray are Michael Rooker as Starlords former slave-master Yondu and Karen Gillan as the vengeance fuelled Nebula, while new characters emerge in the form of a surprising appearance from Sly as some high ranking Ravager which I was not expecting, and Andorian antenna alike empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) whom with Drax’s assistance provides much of the films instinctive wit.
What is firmly back on the agenda is the prismatic panorama of a vast multiverse teeming with a vast array of exotic flora and fauna, I think this is the first 3D projection I’ve seen this year and it was easy to get lost in the celestial visual landscape of distant exploding supernova and associated astrological flotsam and jetsam. The fun quotient is high with a cluster of dizzying set-pieces falling on just the right side of spatial comprehension, with the banter and gags landing with a carpet bombed 60% or so accuracy. There’s maybe a few to many plots nuzzling for attention alongside Starlord’s investigation into his celestial history. This is always the screenwriters bane when it comes to team movies, the hunger to give all four of the other Guardians some sort of character activity and growth, especially since unlike most other franchise threads all the main denizens here are fun and amusing to hang-out with. Groot, like the first film probably wins in these terms with the cuteness quotient turned to 11, but the producers have fully committed to an ensemble piece, perhaps at the expense of giving us much in the way of the wider Marvel cosmology of characters and artefacts.
After the soaring first act I think it is fair to say that the plot weaves and wanes a little, adopting an autopilot trajectory as the team is split across two planets for hereditary excavations and an encounter with the bounty hunting Reavers. These threads and a few mysteries are solved are intertwined for a largely satisfying and visually dexterous finale, even if they do resort to the clichéd bomb countdown pulse-quickener against a foe who might just a little too abstract and elusive for visual representation – hopefully you’ll understand what I’m driving it when you see the film. The soundtrack choice, so important for the charm of the original really didn’t work for me this time around but that’s a subjective criticism depending on your musical taste, I think it will need a diagnostic overhaul for Episode III which Gunn has already confirmed his hyphenate writer-director return. Naturally there’s a smattering of references and cameos – the first big-screen appearance of a voyeuristic specialist of the multiverse had me chuckling in fanboy delight – but virtually zero reference to the overall Infinity Stone strand which seems like an oversight. Still, that didn’t prevent the executives from cramming a half dozen credit stings which is getting slightly ridiculous now. Overall this is a fine continuation of the MCU which keeps matters on an even keel rather than blasting into new territory, an instalment which nearly equals but never eclipses the exhilaration of the first adventure, another pleasing elixir of prismatic CGI chimera, schmaltzy comradeship, risqué in-universe banter and dexterous action sequences from the Marvel laboratory where the formula boffins continue to insist that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;
* Not really, I know exactly what the success of that franchise is – big, ridiculous yet memorable action set piece engineering, four-quadrant attuned, multi-racial casting, and a pummelling global marketing campaign which emphasizes the action over the verbal….