“It’s the Empire Strikes Back of the series.” There. That’s out of the way. If you’ve even casually scanned any written reviews or watched any of the seemingly-endless talking head geek movie review channels on YouTube, you’ve heard that chorus. And to be fair, it’s true. Kind of.
Usually, when people whip out the Episode V comparison, it’s because the movie being reviewed is darker in tone, thematically, than the previous outing in the franchise. And while a “Godfather Part II” comparison would work just as well, Empire is the go-to for fanboys talking about a sci-fi/fantasy property trying to move away from the candy-coated, toys-over-plot existence to something of more merit…
…”Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” does not do this.
It is not any darker than the first film. In fact, I found myself laughing and enjoying the film even more than the original. However, where it IS like Empire is how the film takes our rag-tag group of galaxy guardians and separates them for most of the runtime. Also, we are given more insight to their history (Who is Peter’s dad? Why did he leave his mother? Why didn’t Yondu take Peter back to his dad?), their motivations (Why Does Nebula hate Gamora so much? Why is Rocket such an asshole? Why didn’t Yondu take Peter back to his dad [again]?), all while letting the characters grow (Drax goes from two-note character to one with a good amount of depth) and expanding the Marvel universe (Celestials, Gods, and Watchers, oh my!).
Also, while there IS a villain in the film – like Empire, it’s not a mustache-twirling, sky-laser-having villain. This is more hidden and far more personal. Yes, of course, they have to save the universe – how else do they keep their group name? – but underlying the bang-bang-pew-pew-ness of it all is a story about family, acceptance, and what matters most in life. But don’t think it ever gets too heavy. There are a few moments where you might feel emotional, and maybe might even feel a tear coming on, but as it’s happening, writer/director James Gunn is right there, having the movie also make jokes while metaphorically giving you the middle finger almost teasing the audience for getting the feels. It’s almost cruel, very funny, and should be done more.
And while all this is going on, Baby Groot is running around, stealing the show with his off-the-charts level of adorability.
Well…there are actually THREE scene stealers: Baby Groot, Drax, and Yondu. While they all have plenty of screen time, if you’re anything like me, you’ll leave the theater wanting them to each get their own movie.
One word of warning, though: this is not a big action film. Yes, there IS action in it – and some very interesting action at that – but the film takes more time with the characters and worries less about hand-to-hand-beat-em-ups because when you have a living planet god in the mix, fist fights seem just a tad bit lesser-than.
So, yeah. “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” is a fun movie with plenty of depth and feeling, that flirts with taking itself too seriously, but never does. Also, the soundtrack is perfection, and casting Kurt Russell as a living god was right in every conceivable way.
“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”