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FILM REVIEW: Comic book heroes play it for laughs

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But is that enough? Not a whole lot actually happens in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (12A)
Running time 2hr 16min
Rating ***

COMIC book cinema has inherited the logic of its source material – to attempt a new Marvel movie without having viewed the last dozen releases is to expose oneself to a dizzying, incomprehensible plot, a mind-numbing host of heroes and villains and some of the most downright nonsensical action sequences yet to have graced the multiplex. Guardians of the Galaxy, the definitive sleeper hit of 2014, took this sorry state of affairs and, with indomitable energy and ruthlessness, turned it on its head. This was a comic book flick that ENCOURAGED us to laugh at its excess and stupidity, which dropped high-octane space battles alongside engaging characters, a killer soundtrack and gags that were actually funny – The Hitchhiker’s Guide meets Flash Gordon meets Spaceballs.

A fantasy sequel either ups the ante, opting for effects overkill and flagrant crowd-pleasing, or dials down the madness for the sake of storytelling and dramatic introspection. The first film being the unlikely, tongue-in-cheek blockbuster that it was, GotG Volume 2 here finds itself in an
interesting position, unable to deliver on either pitch without upsetting a large chunk of the audience. Forced into a delicate balancing act, it plays a strange game – the explosions, jokes and alien exotica are all here, but it’s within the context of an across-the-board personalisation of the action that does not always sit well with the story’s galactic scale. Everyone’s favourite spacefarers now find
themselves embroiled in an intricate web of family and identity issues – Gomora (Zoe Saldana) in a feud with her sister (Karen Gillan), Earthling Quill (Chris Pratt) wrestling with the return of his alien father (Kurt Russell), and buccaneer Yondu (Michael Rooker), a blue-skinned outcast, struggling to find his place in the universe.

It’s by no means a slow or unlikeable movie (the impenetrability and OTT-ness of the plot is totally played for laughs), but one cannot help but feel that Vol 2 is at its best when it puts the melodrama aside and sticks to what GotG does better than any other super-franchise. Star-racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is marvellous as ever, stealing the show in his interactions with the hapless, adorable Baby Groot (voiced by, of all people, Vin Diesel); their stretch aboard a pirate ship boasts all the best lines. Director James Gunn demonstrates, once again, his keen ear for music, not bad for the ‘mind’ that brought us the live-action Scooby-Doo movies – Awesome Mix Vol 2, featuring the likes of Parliament, Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens, comes dangerously close to besting the first film’s legendary soundtrack.

But those inspired moments do little to paper over the biscuit-thin execution – the movie takes the safe route, sticking squarely to its predecessor’s legacy. Constant injections of energy and humour cannot distract from the fact that not a whole lot actually happens; it’s as if a conscious decision has been made to keep story and character development to a minimum in preparation for a blowout threequel, and such a Spartan treatment rarely works wonders where the sci-fi genre is concerned, demanding as it does around-the-clock thrills and real human drama (NOT, it must be said, the half-baked soap opera we get in bucketloads here). The second Guardians outing is a fun, occasionally smart and spectacular slice of cosmic pie, but we really deserved more.

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