Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★

It takes a village to raise a Baby Groot.

Where previous Marvel Cinematic Universe entries have unified their narratives around a central theme (Iron Man 3's PTSD, Winter Soldier's surveillance state), none have so successfully aligned visuals, character, and structure with theme for such an emotional payoff.

The villains of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are obsessed with genetics. The Sovereign are billed as genetically modified perfection, where the 'big bad' pilots a giant sperm ship to his ovarian-like homeworld, plants his seed across the galaxy, and finds his only true purpose in biological propagation. In contrast, the film's heroes are a misfit, communal family. Gamora and Nebula are step-sisters who (eventually) find a lasting bond; both orphans, Yondu and Rocket were saved by adoptive families; Starlord has a deeper connection to his surrogate Ravager father than his biological one. If none of these character relationships emphasize the film's favoritism toward makeshift families enough, then a poignant shot of Baby Groot lovingly passed between his Guardian 'parents' during the film's closing minutes will. The resulting character depth produced by those inorganic ties being tested by the conflicts of the film is uncommon in the genre.

Gunn has crafted a resonant blockbuster - a feat few studio hired guns can manage - because of how he uses that theme to pleasurably tug on the heartstrings of his audience. What is truly impressive is how those emotional beats are so fluidly blended with some of the most gonzo, expressive sequences in a major summer release. One slow motion sequence set to "Come a Little Bit Closer" and another scored by "My Sweet Lord" are indulgent in the best way, enhanced by the parallel of the energy and mood of the music, rather than the lyrics. Digging into the playbook of Zack Snyder and Tim Miller, Gunn relies on slow motion imagery to find a union between the static comic page and the movement-image of cinema during various sequences, letting the viewer's eye linger over the kineticism of bodies as timed to a rhythm. Then there are sequences like Yondu, Rocket, and Kraglin's distorted, grotesque trip through seventeen warpholes that are so uncommonly strange the viewer cannot help but welcome them with open arms. Touches of the sort are what is special about the magical equation of comic source material, big budgets, studio support, and artistic freedom.

A purer representation of Gunn's voice, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 breaks from the formulaic stagnation of Ant-Man and Doctor Strange by way of a surprisingly resonant theme and eccentric touches. A pleasure that comes not from the cinematic pedigree of an acclaimed director, but one whose style has been reared by a village of filmic influences.

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