The team of five quarrelsome superheroes returns intact, or mostly intact, with the barely articulate tree-man Groot having been reduced, at the end of the last film, to the sapling-size Baby Groot, still voiced by Vin Diesel, but as if he were exhaling helium from a party balloon. And the film kicks off like a party, with an opening credit sequence featuring Groot shaking his adorably twiggy booty to Electric Light Orchestra's Mr. Blue Sky on a boombox as Chris Pratt's Peter "Star-Lord" Quill, Zoe Saldana's Gamora, Dave Bautista's Drax and Bradley Cooper's CGI raccoon Rocket do battle with an alien starbeast intent on attacking the Anulax batteries they have been hired to protect.
The Guardians may be mercenaries, but they're far from all business, occasionally pausing to queue up one of Peter's favorite tracks as a sonic backdrop to the impending action. (The filmmakers, led by returning director and co-writer James Gunn, also oblige, as in the film's tour-de-force set piece: a scene featuring mass killing, set to Come a Little Bit Closer by Jay and the Americans, as a flying arrow on autopilot - the signature weapon of Michael Rooker's Yondu the Ravager - pierces through multiple bodies over the course of the totally inappropriate yet perfectly curated song.)
That's not the only dazzling visual, in this sharply choreographed and ravishingly designed comedic space opera. One scene, featuring Gamora's green body, silhouetted against the red landscape of the planet Berhert, is so painterly pretty, a la "Avatar's" moon of Pandora, that my eyes hurt - in a good way.
It is on Berhert that our ethically tarnished heroes crash-land, after stealing some of the same batteries they had previously been guarding against theft. There, Peter meets his long-lost father, the appropriately named Ego (Kurt Russell), leading to what appears to be a tender family reunion - and striking a tone that will characterize the rest of the film. Family - the kind that is defined by blood, and the kind for whom you will spill blood, even without sharing DNA - is the theme of this tale, which manages to evoke genuine, deep feelings, along with belly laughs.
Watch the trailer of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2:
Much of the film's humor has to do with stupidity resulting from efforts to look cool. One villain character, who has given himself the moniker Taserface (Chris Sullivan of This Is Us), is mocked repeatedly for the ineffectuality of his meant-to-be-threatening handle. In another scene, Peter compares Yondu - his surrogate father, who raised him as a child - to Mary Poppins, as Yondu descends from the sky, like the famous nanny, holding his arrow aloft like her umbrella. "Mary Poppins? Is he cool?" asks the clueless Yondu.
Yes, Mary Poppins is cool, Peter reassures him, with an implied wink to the audience. Winks, of a more literal variety, are a recurring sight gag, as the cynical Rocket tries, unsuccessfully, to signal his sarcastic digs, by repeatedly batting the one eye that everyone can see.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 suffers from no such fatal exertions. Gunn, whose film includes more world building than the original film - and the introduction of a charming new character, the buglike empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) - delivers backstory, story and the promise of stories to come with the breezy, effortless skill of a master raconteur.
This is not a superhero movie in the ponderous mold of DC Comics's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, or even its fellow Marvel movies centering on Captain America and the Avengers. Falling somewhere between the sardonicism of the Iron Man trilogy and the self-aware meta-movie high jinks of the R-rated yuk-fest Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a toe-tapping, eye-popping indication that summer is here, and that it might not suck after all.
Four stars. Rated PG-13. At area theaters. Contains action violence and suggestive and scatological humor. 137 minutes.
Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.
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