There is no reason Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 should be as good as it is. It’s a sequel, which means almost all of the concepts and characters that were fresh the first time around are now familiar. What’s more, writer-director James Gunn faced the same challenge Joss Whedon did when he tackled the second Avengers movie: how do you take a ragtag team that has finally coalesced, break them up for the story’s take, then bring them back together in a convincing and entertaining way? Yet somehow he has pulled it off in this long but loud, colorful, action-packed film. It’s more serious and emotionally ambitious than the first picture but just as enjoyable.

The opening scene, featuring Kurt Russell, throws us a curve: what’s a young incarnation of this veteran actor doing here, and where does he fit in the Guardians universe? That’s part of the unfolding story, and we soon discover that Russell is a vital component. (He may qualify as this season’s MVP, delivering such good—and expert—performances in The Fate of the Furious and Guardians. He’s been making movies since he was 10, in 1963, and is working at the top of his game.)

The ever-likable Chris Pratt no longer has to prove himself a hero but his character has many hurdles to clear alongside Zoe Saldana (with whom he has an “unspoken” relationship). Comedy relief is again supplied by the roguish Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a baby version of Groot (voiced, believe it or not, by Vin Diesel), and the burly but thick-headed Drax (Dave Bautista). They make a good team, even if this narrative causes them to lose faith in each other.

Michael Rooker gives a larger-than-life performance as the threatening Yondu, who figures prominently in the stand-off between the good guys and the bad, and Sylvester Stallone turns up, briefly, as the leader of a rival band of outlaws. He hasn’t got much to do but he commands attention every minute he’s on screen.

New characters flesh out the expansive storyline, including the villainous Ayesha (Elizabeth Debecki), a growling and humorless Taserface (Chris Sullivan), and a mysterious Kurt Russell sidekick named Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

I won’t try to synopsize Vol. 2, which has too many twists and turns to cite and too many surprises to keep under wraps. Suffice it to say that I had a good time and I think Marvel fans will be very happy indeed. This film may be weightier than the first, but its energy never flags and the charismatic characters keep us interested.

The success of the initial Guardians of the Galaxy took many people by surprise. That element is gone but filmmaker Gunn has given us a rousing piece of entertainment with plenty of action, ingenious ideas, and visual effects to engage us at every level. That’s as much as anyone could ask of a movie, let alone a sequel.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024