Savannah Oakes’s review published on Letterboxd:
James Gunn and the crew are back with Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, the second installment in the rogue MCU team’s film. Though it doesn’t match the first it still brings it with the favorite nostalgic music, witty banter and galactic battles.
The opening proves Gunn has a mastery of characterization and a gift of using the camera to thrill with action and leave the audience chuckling. The Guardians are still at their best as the misfit family. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is the dopey, smoldery leader. Drax (Dave Bautista) is all-too-serious and thus hilarious. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is murderous andicy but apparently melting some. Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is the mafioso-wannabe, sociopath we love to hate. Rounding out the crew is fan-favorite henchman, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), who is now a sixteenth of the size but has his regular-sized vocabulary.
As the Guardians battle a space monster to secure a bunch of batteries for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), a high priestess, who has hired them. As repayment, Ayesha gives them Nebula (Karen Gillan) whom they take captive. As they leave Rocket pockets several batteries. As their ship flies away they are tracked by Ayesha’s ships as they realize Rocket has stolen the batteries. When this attempt fails Ayesha hires our favorite blue ravager, Yondu (Michael Rooker) to locate the Guardians and bring them to justice for a price. While the Guardians attempt to evade both enemies Quill meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell) and his servant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and begins uncovering the mysteries of his past and, eventually, his future.
The cast continues to work their magic--their dynamic, biting remarks giving the somewhat slow pace a quickening step. Karen Gillan is back as bady, Nebula, Gamora’s half-sister and Thanos’ adopted daughter. She was underused and a caricature in the previous installment. Some of te stiffness remains in the performance but it’s used for comedy than for seriousness, still she’s the least charismatic of the bunch.
Still it is Drax, yet again, that steals the show with his deadpan line readings and effortless style. If Game of Thrones was a comedy and a Dothraki could speak it would be Drax.
Elizabeth Debicki was my most exciting casting announcement. She is an exciting villain though an underused one. It remains that when I die I want her to read my will.
Kurt Russell has been fun in everything he’s been in as of late and though I question the path the film went with his character his performance is just as committed and fun as ever. The film is both a failure to Ego (Russell) and Mantis (Klementieff), a plot failure likely coming from Marvel up high. They have their arcs and thus are successful in a narrative sense. However, Mantis plays to terrible stereotypes and Russell exists to be a theme not a character. Plus my dislike is colored by my knowledge of the characters of the comics who are nothing, in my opinion, like the characters in this film.
The film has fun with its themes and subverts them effortlessly. There’s a frequent mockery of class systems in regards to the high priestess. The guardians, even the ravagers, are willing to get their hands dirty. The priestess and her people don’t even truly go into battle--they send surrogate ships that they man safely back home. No harm, no foul. A game they can play over and over with no true sacrifice.
Stemming from this is the idea of duty and origin and where our allegiances lie. Quill is loyal to his misfit family but now finds a father. Quill travels the galaxy with no real home, save Earth where he was taken from. Then of course once these conflicts are text, or rather images, the simple fact of Quill having to confront Ego--his ego--is obvious. He’s arrogant but with heart. It’s an tragic, almost Greek hero’s tale with a deteriorating god to boot. That’s right--”god” with a little “g”.
It’s a slew of daddy issues, delightful one-liners--”You were cybernetically-engineered to be a douchebag”--and CGI galore with great colors and distinct locations. It’s paced slower than it should be and loses steam halfway through but Gunn keeps the jokes coming and the film chugging along.
As happy as we are to see Quill’s mystery solved and them somehow saving the galaxy yet again, we are left wishing this was a story concerning bigger, weightier worlds. We only got a taste of the expansive universe in the first installment and there will likely be little time for exploration in Infinity Wars. Quill and the gang’s adventures will have to be left up to our imagination because, and this is to Gunn and the cast’s credit, when they’re not on screen we know these characters are having adventures without us.