‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Episode II: Attack Of The Groot (Movie Review)

It’s fitting that mixtapes play a pivotal role in these Guardians of the Galaxy films. Like the first movie, Vol. 2 continues to mix a variety of different styles into one enjoyable cinematic playlist that will easily entertain the huge audience ready to hop into Star-Lord’s Milano and go for a ride. Writer/director James Gunn delivered something special back in 2014, and he’s now returned to provide more for this group of a-holes to do. An added level of confidence, as well as a boost in ambition and budget, allows the film to deliver some wild space opera pyrotechnics while doubling down on the character interaction and sarcastic bent that helped separate the first from the rest of the MCU. It’s a shame the actual plot is not more compelling or propulsive, but when you have this much fun watching these characters, that only matters so much.

Following another nifty prologue that shows off Marvel Studios’ ability to de-age veteran actors, Vol. 2 picks up six months after the end of the first film. While this helps pay off certain loose ends and dig into what it means to now be a Guardian of the Galaxy, the cynical side of me also says the small time jump means selling a lot more Baby Groot toys. Given how sparingly the film uses Baby Groot, that’s not a problem though, especially since his (it’s?) involvement leads to one of the best opening title sequences in modern cinema. Between that and the accurately reported five post-credit sequences, the expected toy sales hardly matter when the film is set to provide you so much joy.

Setting the toys aside, the plot finds Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper/Sean Gunn) and baby Groot (a miniaturized Vin Diesel) on the run from angry Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her Sovereign race. The Guardians are saved by a mysterious figure named Ego (Kurt Russell), who quickly reveals himself to be Peter’s long lost father. From there, the gang splits up. Peter, Gamora and Drax go along with Ego to learn more about him on his planet, while Rocket and Groot hang back to fix up their ship and look after Gamora’s psychotic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), whom they’ve recently captured.

Once the setup is in place that’s it for the plot. If anything, Vol. 2 could get some level of credit for feeling more like a lot of side stories and B-plots strung together well enough to hold your attention and eventually converge with fun results. I’ve yet to mention Yondu (Michael Rooker), for example, who features heavily as well, getting an emotional arc in the process. That’s the thing. Despite being thin on plot, there is a good deal of character work going on here. I just wish the story had more momentum and the stakes felt higher.

That’s especially problematic, given the film’s use of large scale action fairly frequently. I’m all for huge action (although a final action scene ends up having too many Man of Steel vibes running through it), but Vol. 2 could have benefited from a less is more approach, given just how much we are supposed to care about everything. Finding the balance between big blockbuster fun and sweeping emotion can be difficult, and while the first film was able to deliver something that felt fresh while dabbling in emotional beats, as well as fun action, Vol. 2 comes off as bloated, but in a different sort of way.

It’s not a matter of too many characters like other superhero films often suffer from. Instead, it’s more of how the movie’s attitude wants us to bond with them. While the soundtrack is another terrific mix of 70s jams, Tyler Bates’ score is putting way too much emphasis on the strings to elicit more feelings than we need to have, given this crew. I like that Guardians of the Galaxy has a core concept that involves bonding between an untraditional family and the sort of challenges that come with that. Trying to balance that with the off-color sense of humor can only go so far if the story has little for these people to do, beyond banter.

There is a lot of fun to be had here though. That same banter gives the film plenty of personality, along with the gonzo production and costume design. Vol. 2 visits many different planets and features plenty of various aliens and what have you (this film is Marvel Easter eggs galore), letting you know just how bizarre this universe is and how all the more enjoyable it can be because of this. With Gunn utilizing the Red Weapon 8K digital camera, it further emphasizes the striking look of all this imagery. The effects are pretty fantastic throughout and the sense of scale indeed allows this film to work as a fun space-based diversion between Star Wars movies (your move Valerian).

Despite my misgivings about how the film uses the characters for its story, there is still plenty to enjoy as far as what this cast brings. Bautista was a surprising and hilarious delight in the first film as the epitome of a straight man character, and this movie finds the best ways to use his very literal personality. Rooker, as mentioned, pretty much made the film for me, which kind of speaks to the story’s imbalance when thinking about how much Pratt (ostensibly the lead) has to do. Similarly, while Saldana is still given the short straw, Gillan has an increased presence and makes Nebula’s relationship with Gamora all the more interesting and entertaining to watch. And of course, you have Russell, who is just as charismatic as ever.

Make no mistake; this is a very likable movie that feels defined by the hands of Gunn, in a series of films that could use more filmmaker personality. If anything, I’m merely knocking the movie (which I will happily see again) for not quite knowing what to do with all that is has. Vol. 2 is stuffed, but not overwhelming. It’s happier to take its time, which is fine to a point but could have used more push in the story. That same snarky sense of humor runs throughout, which is to say Gunn happily enjoys subverting expectations and having characters willfully laugh along at the absurdity on display.

Having to play all of that and satisfy as another huge Marvel adventure is not an issue (and the standalone nature of this film is appreciated), but I wish guarding the galaxy was more of a pressing matter. Still, like any good mixtape, even the songs you don’t enjoy as much end and lead into another great one. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a film with a lot of good songs.


1 Response to “‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Episode II: Attack Of The Groot (Movie Review)”

  1. Ulises Castro

    I think part 1 is better but I still enjoyed the sequel, specially Yondu and Nebula my favorite characters.