MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2’ is rousing Marvel spectacle of the most fun kind

Fun, consistent, beautiful and thrilling, as much as I want to hate Marvel, this film makes it even harder to.

| May 8, 2017

Dear friends, I apologize for the tardiness of this review. I have spent the past week with my family after the sudden, unexpected and tragic passing of my grandfather, who acted as a major father figure in my life. If this isn’t a good enough excuse for you, then I don’t know what you want from me. Go be bitter elsewhere.

I think it’s fair to say that we’re all just a little tired of Marvel at this point, but for reasons that have become unique and foreign to the film community. Marvel films aren’t poorly written or conceived, nor are they clumsily directed or boring, they’re just…common. While the quality of these films are as strong as ever, more and more films are being released and it’s only due time before one of them falls squarely onto its face. Back in 2014, it was actually pretty doubtful that “Guardians of the Galaxy” would be a success, due to its highly conceptual and unique approach to the superhero genre we had never seen before. Coming off the heels of the first installment of “The Avengers” and the fabulous “Captain America: Civil War,” it was a bit doubtful that lightning could strike thrice, and yet, “Guaridans of the Galaxy” set itself apart as one of the finest films int he Marvel canon to date, mostly thanks to director James Gunn’s fully realized vision, but does this vision continue into its sequel?

Yes. Yes it does.

Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoë Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel) are continuing their work after the first film as hired mercenaries sworn to protect the galaxy from evil, while also bringing their own sort of mischief. During a mission for the Sovereign race, headed by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), they are soon hunted by the kingdom after Rocket secretly steals valuable material from them. Saved by a mysterious figure, they crash land on a planet after apprehending Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan) from the Sovereigns. On the planet, they soon meet the man who saved them, Ego (Kurt Russell), who happens to be Peter’s long lost father. Along with his companion, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), they travel to Ego’s planet to rebuild his relationship with Peter, while more sinister forces close in.

It’s hardly the first time it’s been said in a review; in fact, it’s probably the most common comment on “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” but it’s true that this film is easily the most emotionally engaging film in all of Marvel’s films to date. The relationship built between Ego and Peter, but also between Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker), Drax and Mantis, even between Gamora and Nebula, are all incredibly engaging, funny, heartfelt, as well as heartbreaking at times. It’s easy to make a nice looking spectacle of a film, but to inject it with so much emotional life in the down time between the action set-pieces is a very rare and refreshing feat.

I wasn’t able to see “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” in 3D, which the film is playing in along with an IMAX 3D release, due to the fact that I was fortunate enough to see the film in Dolby Cinema, a recently opened premium format opened at the Concord Mills movie theater. Dolby Cinema combines Dolby Atmos, its revered sound mixing layout with Dolby Vision, a new bar set in color range, black levels and general image quality unparalleled by any other format. While I can’t comment on the film’s 3D, since Dolby Cinema is only formatted for 2D releases, I can say that the film might just be one of the most colorfully brilliant films I have ever seen, made even more brilliant by Dolby’s wondrous mixture of clarity and immersion. Gunn finds a way to make the film lush and exciting, without ever making the film feel gawdy and tacky, like something like “Oz: The Great and Powerful” did.

Even then, the film really finds a balance between the epic and the intimate with a very unique vision. Gunn, while coming off the indie circuit, really knows how to frame an epic shot with that of intimacy and humor that we typically only find from smaller scale films. This really is the perfect mixture of getting the right tone with a scale that refuses to be screwed around with. And even more, when “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” gets down to the nitty-girtty, the film is incredibly thrilling and wonderfully crafted as an action film, not just a standard superhero film.

As for the performances, the main cast all bring their A-game again, but its Bautista, who was the main criticism of the first film, who really stepped it up as Drax, really finding a newfound sweetness and humor that wasn’t really seen in the previous film. There’s a real depth to his character this time around that Bautista really steps up for the challenge with. Other characters are also given more depth this time around, including Yondu, Nebula, Gamora and new characters like Ayesha, Ego and Mantis are given quite a bit of room to shine as well. Of course, everyone is talking about how cute Baby Groot is, and that can’t be denied, and it really does speak wonders that a film can cram so many different personalities in a film, including a cute tree sprout and really make it work as an ensemble piece.

Is “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” better than “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Not quite. Sure, the film is wonderfully crafted and deep, but the one thing I will give the original film over this one is that sense of surprising originality. While “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” builds off the first one really well, it still holds the same wonderful tone and feeling about it, which can’t be argued with, but it’s hard to compare it to the first time we really got he initial assault of awesomeness we got from the first film. It’s a best case scenario sequel, but we all can’t forget how we felt with the first film.

“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is how to properly do a sequel. While the film doesn’t surpass the first film à la “Aliens,” it does build a much more engrossing universe that Gunn simply couldn’t have built in a single film. It’s an emotional, engaging, beautiful, exciting, hilarious ride of a superhero film and should be studied by any filmmaker seeking to take their swing at the superhero genre, even if they want to go in a different direction. “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is a testament to Marvel’s ongoing dedication to filmmakers and fans with their films that, while incredibly frequent, deliver every single time. While some films in the canon like “Thor: The Dark World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” might’ve been clear steps down from their predecessors, each film in this universe stands on its own objective merits, and “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is no exception. Play on, Marvel. Play on.

4.5/5

Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios (Disney)

Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, with Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.
Runtime: 136 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content.
Also available in RealD 3D, IMAX 3D and Dolby Cinema.

Marvel Studios presents, a James Gunn film, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a junior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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