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Front Page - Friday, May 12, 2017

‘Guardians 2’ is actually really good

 I’m going to make my review of Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” easy. If you liked the first one, you’re probably going to enjoy the second one, too. If the original film was too goofy for your tastes, then odds are the sequel isn’t going to win you over.

That’s not to say “Guardians 2” offers more of the same, reheated like leftover diner hash and slung in your direction in all of its greasy glory. While your favorite five-some is back for another romp through the cosmos, the story takes a surprising turn toward the sentimental.

Like “Fate of the Furious,” “Guardians 2” is about friendship, family and the ties that bind. I can almost see your eyes rolling. But unlike the ham-fisted way in which “Fate” crammed the idea of family down viewers’ throats, “Guardians 2” handles its themes in a more natural – even elegant – way. The results are downright touching.

Now I can hear you scoffing. Elegant? Touching? Did I forget which movie I’m reviewing?

Nope. “Guardians 2” is both of those things and more.

The key to the movie’s success is James Gunn, who returns as writer and director. His familiarity with Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Groot and Rocket allowed him to dig deep, and his clear affection for these characters enabled him to take them in satisfying new directions. Thanks to his deft and insightful writing, the heart of each guardian undergoes a Grinch-like transformation.

I’ll use Star-Lord as an example. As the movie opens, he and Rocket aren’t getting along, and there’s still unspoken romantic tension between him and Gamora. Then there’s the unresolved issue of his parentage. Fans of the first film will remember his mother died of cancer but that the question of who his father is went unanswered.

That question is answered early on in the sequel. It winds up being a bit of a MacGuffin, though, as Star-Lord eventually discovers he had found his true family long ago – before he ever met his father. (A MacGuffin is an object in a movie or a book that serves as a trigger for the plot. Alfred Hitchcock coined the term.)

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking I’m wrong; you like the original “Guardians” but the follow-up sounds like “a very special episode of ‘Blossom.’”

Relax. Rocket is as homicidal as ever and takes great delight in using new gadgets to take out bad guys. There’s plenty of fun action, too, including a scene in which Yondu uses his magic arrow to rid the universe of dozens of ne’re-do-wells. And Gunn selected 14 killer new tracks to accompany the carnage.

What’s more, although “Guardians 2” is rooted in the relationships between its characters, it never takes itself too seriously. Sometimes, the sappy moments seem like a set up for a joke, as when Drax tells Mantis, a new character he finds physically hideous, that she’s beautiful, too (pause for dramatic effect) – on the inside.

The film is quite a looker, too. Its many locations feature imaginative and beautifully conceived CGI, and the process used to roll back time on actor Kurt Russell produces amazing results. He really does look like his younger self.

But my favorite image in the film has to be the scene in which Yondu unleashes his magic arrow. Gunn turns out the lights and pulls the camera back to an overhead view of the arrow darting throughout a space ship. The screen looks like a juke box gone wild as the arrow leaves a trail of red in its wake to the tune of Silver’s “Wham Bang Shang-A-Lang.” That’s good stuff.

My only complaint about the visuals is one I had about “Dr. Strange,” too: everything has a plastic sheen that makes the locations look slightly fake.

So there you have it. “Guardians 2” is everything a sci-fi action adventure sequel should be. It offers more of everything you liked while expanding your understanding of the characters. All of this leads to an emotional finale that promises another great adventure down the road.

If you liked the first one, take Rocket’s advice and “go see the frickin’ sequel.” If you didn’t enjoy the first one, I’m sure Rocket would have something special to say to you, too.

Three stars out of four