The sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the team must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill's true parentage.
It has been three years since Marvel first struck gold with Guardians of The Galaxy, its wise-cracking, soundtrack-selling story of a ragtag band of space pirates. GotG was a superhero story that had a little fun at the corporate mast head’s expense, by riffing on the established tropes of the more serious-minded superteam-extravaganzas (Avengers et al) that were coming down the pipe every other northern summer. Director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman remodelled an obscure tale from the Marvel archives that was set in an alternate timeline, and went to town with the comedic potential of key support characters such as a raccoon-like mutant (Bradley Cooper), a sentient tree (Vin Diesel), and a tactless mountain of muscle (Dave Bautista). But for all of its marketable tomfoolery, the broader GotG narrative doesn’t stray very far from the blockbuster template, which is to say that it revolves around a mouthy space adventurer (Peter Quill / ‘Star-Lord’ - Chris Pratt) with dormant gifts and daddy issues.
You’ll recall that little Peter was abducted by a spaceship moments after watching his single mum die of cancer, and so was raised on the tough love techniques of Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his seedy gang of intergalactic Ravagers. He maintained his emotional equilibrium through repeat listens of songs that were cherished by his late mama, and which she committed to a legacy mix-tape. These aspects of his biography are the main ‘need to knows’ going into the GotG sequel, which deals almost exclusively with that unresolved issue of Quill’s absentee father, and which once again, sources its emotional cues from the tasty tunes of the Billboard chart circa-1976.
"At a time when Hollywood is being called out for perpetuating Orientalism, it ain’t a great look for the most subservient character in the Galaxy to be the Asian servant with the psychic powers"
A quick opening sequence re-introduces the Guardians mid-battle, with Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Co. having earned a reputation as a top-notch security detail, on the strength of their (inter)stellar work providing safe passage of the Marvel McGuffin of the first film, the Infinity Stone. We find them stationed in an intergalactic outpost, minding batteries for a gilded High Priestess with trust issues (Elizabeth Debicki, in regal ice queen mode), who harbours a grudge like nobody else when her hired goons make off with the goods. Which is all a way to bring about a fun and speedy space chase, until a mystery man with amazing hair shows up to flag the Guardians towards their nearest emergency exit wormhole.
It's no spoiler to say that the mysterious stranger is none other than Quill's own papa, Ego (Kurt Russell). Gunn applies some Benjamin Button-esque movie magic to transform Russell, 66, back to the flicky-fringed stud of his youth to depict his whirlwind courtship of Quill’s mother, to hint at his virility, and to demonstrate a genetic predisposition for maroon leather. It's also no spoiler to say that the joyful reunion between father and son isn't everything it's cracked up to be. This series does, after all, take many of its cues from Star Wars.
The sequel't title ('Vol. 2') adopts the naming conventions of the record industry because of course it does, and is chock full of Classic Hits in ways that will continue to keep Mick Fleetwood in drumsticks for years to come. It’s apt that the major set-piece of this film is set to the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s 'The Chain' as, much like the hippie Supergroup that continues to tour the world and play the hits, GotG-v2 is the filmic equivalent of getting the band back together. It keeps its new stuff to a minimum (indeed, the biggest franchise reveal is held until the credits) and is a fairly stock-as-a-rock sequel that spends its 137-minute running time concerned with the hero’s complex (*not really) awakening to the “true” concept of “family”.
It’s fine, it’s familiar, it’s got Kurt Russell and a cute Groot so of course it’ll make a motza.
One thing, though: when Ego whisks the Guardians to his eponymous home planet, he is waited on hand and temple by his passive attendant, Mantis (played by French-Canadian actress Pom Klementieff, whose mother is Korean). To be sure, Mantis doesn't have the most progressive backstory in the Marvel universe, but it's with her characterisation that the film really could have used a fresh take. She has the gift of emotional telepathy that includes the ability to will her ‘master’ to sleep, and, as the film's only identifiably Asian character, her downcast eyes and struggles with language are, shall we say, 'problematic'. At a time when Hollywood is being called out for perpetuating Orientalism (if not eliminating Asians from the narrative altogether), it ain’t a great look for the most subservient character in the Galaxy to be the Asian servant with the psychic powers. That said, there’s a late-film cameo by a renowned arse-kicker of Chinese-Malaysian extraction, so we live in hope that GG-vol 3 might yet be a little more 'woke'.
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