The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a surprise smash hit, a late 2014 summer release that made well over $300 million at the box office. Not bad for a superhero afterthought, a movie that put a little-known sitcom actor (Chris Pratt) in the midst of a motley crew that included a gun-toting raccoon and a walking, talking tree.
Like every other Marvel movie, that crew had to save the universe, but what really set “Guardians” apart was that it led with a sense of humor rather than its fists. And Chris Pratt, with his good-natured swaggering, proved the perfect embodiment of the film’s off-the-cuff spirit.
But now, unlike its predecessor, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” is facing sky-high expectations. No longer bringing up the rear, it’s actually kicking off this summer’s stream of superhero blockbusters. Can it maintain its carefree spirit and comic sensibility in light of its new heavyweight status?
The short answer is yes.
Two-time galaxy savers, they prove to be. It’s the same crew as before, with one significant alteration – Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord; Gamora, the green-skinned swordswoman; Drax, the behemoth; and Rocket, the raccoon. But Groot, the tree, is now Baby Groot, a tiny offshoot, so to speak. And he’s so damn cute, he practically steals the show, with his big ol’ eyes and innocent spontaneity.
This crew of misfits does plenty of spectacularly razzle-dazzle fighting, in their spaceships and out of them, but the film’s key ingredient remains the banter and the camaraderie.
The film remains amusingly self-aware. When the bad guys start executing everybody they’ve captured in a raid, for instance, they suddenly stop when they get to the hyper-cute Baby Groot. Even the baddest of the bad admits, “It’s too adorable to kill.”
The movie is a little overstuffed and overlong but that’s primarily because it has somewhat grander ambitions than the first. Not content to just wow us and make us laugh, Vol. 2 wants to register emotionally for us as well.
Big chunks of time are devoted to Quill dealing with the father he never knew, Gamora grapples with a sister who hates her, and another character faces his own mortality so nobly, the entire crew gets choked up.
These efforts at character depth, in the midst of comic book mayhem, are not entirely successful but I appreciate the attempt.
The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise may have started as a comic safety valve for the Marvel universe, but it clearly wants to expand its brand to include more than laughs.
As long as the laughs keep coming, that’s okay with me.