“There are two types of being in the universe – those who dance, and those who do not” as many a clubbing friend has suggested, in hope rather than expectation, while watching me drunkenly flail my arms around to everything from Abba to the Sisters of Mercy, unaware that the back of my skirt is tucked into my tights.
Drax, who says the same thing in the long awaited Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, would probably agree.
Where the first Guardians Of The Galaxy film was incredibly refreshing in a universe of reboots and sequels, this vol 2 doesn’t have quite the same sparkle – though it’s still an entertaining riot of jokes, action, cameos, colour and some heart-warming stuff at the end.
How many stories are there that can be told? Not many, which is why they are repeated again and again. Stories about the bonds that link us fill dark fairy tales, religious texts, novels and movies. Tales of parental and sibling ties which are far harder to break than we could ever imagine; and the families we’ve created for ourselves – not always deliberately or even with creatures we like. And this film, while being a funny and fresh-ish take on the theme, is about nothing if not family. I know it’s about family because two hours are spent telling us that, then reinforcing it in various ways, including through song. There could well have been an interpretive dance in there too.
Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) finds his father (Kurt Russell), a situation which should be joyous but is almost always more complicated than that, whichever planet it happens on, because what makes a parent? While Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) repeat old patterns of behaviour and seethe over childhood wrongs, and the Guardians bicker and save the galaxy.
The opening credits are fabulous and will chisel away at the hardest heart to get you in the mood for what is coming – and yes that’s Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dancing, growing but still small enough to be bendy and cute rather than rigid and gnarly. To be honest I could have happily sat through two hours of just Baby Groot being adorable. And I finally get why people like gardening.
The Guardians are collecting their bounty from Ayesha, high priestess of the gold-skinned Sovereign People – Gamora’s sister Nebula. Sadly Rocket (Bradley Cooper) resorts to thievery which then unleashes the might of the Sovereigns against the Guardians.
Luckily help is at hand in the form of Russell who has his very own Kurt Russell Planet, and thank goodness he does as his name is Ego and we can now make jokes about Quill’s dad having an ego the size of a planet.
Ego is a god, and as he points out to Quill that makes him a demi-god, though it makes a change to have a man who has to be told he is half-god rather than one who simply assumes it. (Don’t bother to email, I’ll be painting my nails and that requires all my concentration.) Sadly for Quill like many gods Ego has let that celestial power go to his head leaving his newly discovered son with a dilemma, and a galaxy that needs saving.
Kurt first appears at the very beginning of the film, de-aged back to 1980 and enjoying the company of Quill’s mother Meredith back on earth. (De-aged actors are completely freaking me out at the moment. It seems to go against the very order of things where we only get older, even within a film, with one or two Benjamin Button-like exceptions. By all means age a 20 year old to dodderiness, or even better give a genuinely doddery actor a job, but de-aging just seems to signal a terrifying future where the young never get to have their moment in the spotlight because George Clooney suddenly looks like he did in ER and all the British actors are reminded of their previously terrible teeth).
Although Guardians 2 is an ensemble piece there’s still a lot of room for other characters. Nebula really aroused my sympathies this time around, though maybe I’m projecting as I have two sisters and naturally I was the misunderstood one. Her relationship with Gamora (“You wanted to win and I just wanted a sister” Nebula reminds her) is a story of sibling rivalry that is as old as time. Their father has repeatedly pitted them against each other and literally changed Nebula’s body when she failed, and she has to live with the consequences. The only part that didn’t work for me was when they took their leave of each other (and I won’t tell you how, or when) – it just seemed to be rushed with no nuance, while sisterhood has nuance twisting through it even if you apparently hate each other.
Mantis, Ego’s pet, is supposed to be an empath but considering she can understand people’s feelings she is remarkably guileless. She develops a relationship of sorts with Drax (Dave Bautista) where he matter of factly insults her and she equally matter of factly accepts it, though I didn’t find their exchanges particularly easy to listen to. Having said that the two characters are similar – both are standing slightly at an angle to the rest of society and have no natural understanding of social cues. Big blue Yondu has a big role to play and yes I sympathised with him too.
There are some cracking lines (“You killed my mom! And squished my Walkman!” screeches Quill to somebody who killed his mom and squished his Walkman), and some tense moments, mainly supplied by Baby Groot whose limited language skills leave one wandering if he can really be relied upon to follow instructions correctly when the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.
And it all looks incredible – the planet they find Quills’ father on is a beautiful multicoloured world. There’s also a really impressive space funeral (I won’t say whose but what superhero film doesn’t have a sacrifice?), and what with all the gold Sovereign People I’m looking forward to lots of articles about how long it took to paint them each day.
There are five post-credit scenes which did mean we all stayed resolutely in our cinema seats until the lights were up and the staff were pretty much about to lock the doors and go home, in case we’d miscounted.
As with most blockbusters you know you’re being manipulated and you know that certain archetypal blockbuster set pieces have to take place, but that doesn’t detract from scenes which can be rather emotional even if they are derivative. It’s easy to become jaded with universal stories, but director James Gunn presents them with too much aplomb, and the cast are too talented, for that to happen.
That said, it’s certainly not a film that lightly signals where it is going when it can bosh you over the head with a traffic light instead. And sadly I just didn’t come out of the cinema with that bounce and buzz that I got from the first film. But it’s a riotous and funny journey with plenty of signposts for Vol 3.