first_img As has been noted elsewhere, it’s getting to the point where Marvel Cinematic Universe movies can only be properly reviewed against each other. The Disney superhero factory has become so expert at making these films that it gets boring if you don’t assume a basic expectation of competence going in that you wouldn’t necessarily apply to other blockbusters (see also: Pixar.)With that in mind, one place where the MCU has consistently stumbled (i.e. where they’ve made what for anyone else would be a “good enough” but for them feels like a big misstep) has been in making direct sequels. Iron Man 2 wasn’t as good as Iron Man, Age of Ultron wasn’t as good as The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World honestly just didn’t have the fun of Thor 1… apart from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel’s persistent ailment has been constipation. They have a lot of difficulty with Number 2’s. (I’m so sorry…)A lot the time the issue has been a feeling that they lack freedom: Once a Marvel debut movie is a hit, the characters get scheduled for cameos and crossovers down the road, and the sequels are left trying to develop characters whose status-quo can now only change so much. The Guardians of The Galaxy franchise seems to be laboring within that sort of framework: The next really significant jump in their story will be when they show up in Avengers: Infinity War, which leaves Vol. 2 in danger of having to do a sequel while jogging in place. If the Guardians or their setup change too drastically, it might lessen some of the promises of seeing THE Guardians meet THE Avengers and THE… whoever else.But whereas Iron Man and Thor’s sequels both faltered by deciding to spend their “middle movie” doing worldbuilding busywork, Guardians Vol. 2 decides to take the opportunity dig deeper into it’s main characters. In Vol. 2 they cut back on the interplanetary travelogue that defined much of the first film and instead of splitting its cast between really only about three main locations with an emphasis on working through their ever-present hangups and personal demons. As a result, even though it’s playing with some fairly big and abstract science-fiction concepts, packs in a ton of Marvel easter eggs and the stakes are (eventually) once again the fate of The Galaxy itself; Vol. 2 really does feel like a much smaller and more intimate movie than its predecessor. Can’t say I saw that coming.Fortunately, returning writer/director James Gunn is really good at character work, so making the film primarily all about its various characters having soul-bearing conversations about their anxieties is right in his wheelhouse. On balance, it’s probably overall about as good as the original – even if it does inevitably lack some of that “New Franchise Smell.”In any case, the story proper involves the Guardians themselves being on the run from a race of genetically-engineered gold-skinned superhumans called The Sovereign after Rocket manages to piss off their vengeful queen Ayesha; who conscripts The Ravagers to pursue them further. Circumstances eventually split the team in two different directions, with Rocket and Baby Groot getting pulled into a Ravager mutiny situation with Yondu while Peter, Gamora, and Drax meet up with Kurt Russell as the projected human avatar of [redacted spoiler]. And he claims to be Peter’s real father and offers him the possibility of attaining unbelievable power and his long-sought familial connection… but potentially at the cost of the surrogate family, he’s formed with his friends. Amidst all of this, we also have Drax forming a hilariously awkward friendship with newcomer Mantis and Gamora and Nebula working through the damage of their mutually abusive childhoods.To say any more would constitute spoilers for what turns out to be a fairly surprising and complex plot setup, but suffice it to say that at times it all threatens to be a little bit heavy for a sequel in such an irreverent franchise. But Gunn knows how to deflate an overly-earnest scene with a well-timed joke and does so reliably throughout the film, which helps it stay breezy even as it heads into some pretty dark territory thematically. There are very few movie properties that can turn a bravura sequence that literally depicts the full-blown slow-motion massacre of well over a hundred people into a simultaneously funny and even heartwarming setpiece… but this turns out to be one of them. It also ends up having a very solid, interesting, hateable main villain.It’ll be curious to see how it’s received overall, given that it opts to spend much of its runtime putting the big-scale combat stuff into the background, instead of centering the action on chases and escapes and getting all morose about how damaged and broken the ostensibly funny main characters are. For my own part, I can agree I had more raw “fun” with the first one. But I appreciate the deeper and weirder places this one goes to and it wraps up in a very satisfying way that stays true to the innate weirdness of the series and delivers something pretty special. Even as it relies (like the rest of the film) a bit too much on callbacks to the stuff, everyone liked from the original.In the end, while it’s almost certainly impossible to recreate the out-of-nowhere newness of the first film, basically everything else that worked still works. These are great characters, impeccably well cast, under the supervision of a genuine auteur talent inhabiting easily the most unique and bizarre status-quo in the modern blockbuster scene. Even while no longer technically “original” in and of itself, Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is still more fresh and different than most anything else Hollywood will offer up over the next few months. MovieBob Reviews: ‘Shadow’MovieBob Reviews: ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ Stay on targetlast_img

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