Genre: Action, Adventure
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, Karen Gillan
Director: James Gunn
“Your mommy’s alright, your daddy’s alright,” promise the Cheap Trick vocals from their smashing anthem Surrender, the song that closes out Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2 with a line that, in context, seems like severe understatement: “They just seem a little weird.” You don’t say. Daddy issues have long been a staple of intergalactic storytelling, but things are noticeably nuttier in this film where many a father and father-figure is brought to task. At one point when a character wonders whether he should chase after the charismatic silver-fox claiming to be his father, another asks him that most eternal of questions: “What if this man is your Hasselhoff?”
I’d loved the first Guardians Of The Galaxy, an eye-popping and irreverent treat, a stunning and stupendously silly space opera: Star Wars made for those who prefer a Deadpool to a Darth Vader. Featuring a non-star quintet of obscure comic book outcasts, director James Gunn had the elbow room to make things messy, mischievous and genuinely weird, and this time he subverts things even further: In Vol 2, for instance, we realise that every major character has a truly messed-up (and genuinely horrifying) backstory, and they’ve earned the right to be – as Cheap Trick sang – “a little weird.”
Little, of course, one says in a relative way. This is a giant film, a fireworks display punctuated by gags, a visually startling film that occasionally deploys its own laugh track – a hulking brute of a man laughing, loudly and in self-congratulation, at his own words, warm and booming and highly infectious – and gives us much not merely to stare at but, remarkably enough, to feel for. The film holds a surprising amount of pathos, not least in my favourite moment, where a raccoon-like character gingerly and worriedly touches the sides of his jaws – in silent, immediate examination – after someone casually refers to him as a “triangle-faced monkey.”
You know the band by now, of course. There’s ‘Star-Lord’ Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a swashbuckling hero-type who acts before he thinks, trying to keep these misfit brigands together; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin who shoots off schoolbus-sized guns to teach her sister a lesson; Drax (Dave Bautista), all brawn (and yes, laughter) and tactlessness, with a body of muscular, veiny stone; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a perpetually growling weapons expert who has trouble winking; and, of course, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), a pocket-sized twig who is tiny and feral and could prove to be very useful indeed if only he understood what he was being told.
This is a film, however, about Ego.
That happens to be the name of Peter’s father, played, in a spot of dream casting, by Kurt Russell – who, thrillingly enough, shows up as the young, dreamy Kurt Russell in flashback sequences, Snake Plissken come alive in a surreal world far, far from New York – and he’s a helluva character, a man who travels in an egg-shaped spacecraft that is exquisitely yolks-and-whites in its design, and lives on a gobsmacking, gorgeous planet where bridges appear to be made of milk solids and memories are carved out of porcelain. (These pages of the colouring book need to be lickable.)
While Ego – as befits the name – is certainly complicated, the film is full of characters driven by insecurities, confidence issues and the need for validation. It’s rare to see a smorgasbord of unique characters with such clearly-defined conflicts and motivations, and Gunn sneakily keeps telling us more than we think we know, taking a rollicking, trippy story and raising the storytelling stakes till he eventually builds up to something truly moving.
This is a long film and despite the inventiveness, coherence and sense of play imparted to the action sequences, some feel a tad too long simply because the results always seem inevitable. There are five end-credit sequences, by the way, so the film doesn’t even end when it claims. Also, in introducing new characters – like Elizabeth Debicki’s gleaming Ayesha and Sylvester Stallone’s Stakar Ogord, both doubtless bound for bigger parts in Volume 3 – and the Peter Quill and Gamora relationship feels shortchanged. Merely mentioning Sam and Diane from Cheers does not, alas, a Sam and a Diane make.
Guardians Of The Galaxy was unlike any superhero movie we’d seen before, and, in contrast, Volume 2 mirrors it rather loyally, playing off it instead of breaking new ground and standing on its own, but – as sophomore albums are bound to do – it has more to say even if we’ve heard these sounds before. The ones echoing relentlessly in my head come from a song by Silver that captures the film’s spirit with pop panache: Wham. Bam. Shang-a-lang.