For those who never saw their less impressive first film, the eponymous Guardians are a rag-tag of space travelling mercenaries often on the wrong side of the law. Rocket (a raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) has an unfortunate habit of insulting the wrong person at the wrong time. Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is a problem solver and adventurer, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) an agile fighter. The group also includes strong man Drax (Dave Bautista), from a race who take everything literally, and cute, walking baby tree-being Groot (voice: Vin Diesel). Welcome to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Clever and efficient story construction ensures that many different narrative strands are deftly balanced with several intertwined plots in play. Romantically involved with an Earthwoman in the 1980s, Ego (Kurt Russell) is an alien who seeds and cultivates mysterious plants on the planets he visits and is searching for his long-lost son Quill. A genetically engineered race called the Sovereign hire our heroes to protect their precious supply of batteries until Rocket steals some, at which point they send assorted armadas and later a gang of mercenaries led by blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker) after them. And so on.
Leaving aside the plot, the space opera special effects are peerless and, seen on a huge screen in 3D, spectacular. All of which might be reason enough for the comic’s fans or even your average popcorn moviegoer to see it, if not for those of us who like our cinema on the more subversive side.
Where the film really scores though is in the spaces in between and around the franchising, the plot and the special effects which allow it room to breathe, play and get dirty. Take the very early scene in which the Guardians protect the Sovereign’s world from a marauding, tentacled maw. We’ve seen scenes like this before and they’ve become boring. This film knows that and shows much of the fight scene out of focus in the background or off to the side while in focus in the foreground baby Groot plugs in a sound system and dances to music as the mayhem rages.
Baby Groot will later fail several times to retrieve a simply described object from a sleeping jailer that would allow those who requested it to escape imprisonment and certain death. He keeps returning with various incorrect items. And later still, a lengthy sequence is constructed around baby Groot’s being assigned to press one of two buttons on a detonator, one of which would prove lethal. Infused with the spirit of gag cartoons or burlesque comedy, there’s something wonderfully subversive about all this.
Thus you have another scene where the action stops for Quill to insist that Gamora has an “unspoken thing” for him and dance with her on a balcony. Or a fight sequence where Yondu’s one foot long spear weaves a non-linear trajectory through the air as it takes out a plethora of enemy mercenaries by fatally piercing them one by one. Or an antagonistic character as complex as Gamora’s supposedly villainous sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who may or may not be trustworthy. Or the iconic Kurt Russell clearly relishing his pivotal role. Or an entire sequence detailing a character’s funeral.
A big budget blockbuster this may be, but unexpected, additional elements constantly fire off in interesting directions without ever compromising form, narrative or visuals. The whole thing is efficiently scripted Hollywood eye candy with grime lovingly rubbed into its very fabric from the bottom up to turn it into something far dirtier and altogether more compelling.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is out in showing in cinemas across the UK from Friday, April 28th. Get a feel for the movie by watching the trailer below. Then close your eyes and picture it in 3D.