In this week’s episode of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, entitled Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the ragtag group of space-rogues led by self-described “Star-Lord” Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets a new friend: Peter’s father, played by Special Guest Star Kurt Russell! Peter never knew anything about his dad, only that he was not an Earthling and that he left Peter and his mom behind.
GOTGv2, again written and directed by James Gunn, has the same tone and attitude as its predecessor — think glib Star Trek — and much of the same swashbuckling space action. It begins with baby Groot dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while Peter says, “Showtime, a-holes,” and the Guardians fight a giant space-squid. Fun, you know? Kind of the same fun as last time, and this is at least the 10th film this century to feature “Mr. Blue Sky,” but still. Fun.
But it’s missing some of the pizzazz. Part of that is due to the storyline, which has low stakes and is surprisingly uncomplicated for a Marvel movie. The Guardians do a job for a race of narcissists called the Sovereigns, and as payment get custody of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), a fugitive who’s wanted in space-court for her crimes in the first film. But Rocket the space-raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper by way of George Costanza) steals the Sovereigns’ valuable space-batteries (the same things Nebula was caught trying to steal), making enemies of the Sovereigns. It’s while fleeing them that the Guardians meet Peter’s father, an immortal being named Ego (a bit on the nose) who has created his own planet and lives there with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a bug-like empath woman with whom the hulking Drax (Dave Bautista) develops a rapport.
But it’s a good 80 minutes before anything like a villain or opponent shows up to give the film some conflict. Much of the time is spent on the Peter-Ego relationship, the son skeptical of the man who abandoned him, the father seemingly sincere in his desire to make amends. (In flashback, we see a digitally enyoungened Kurt Russell head over heels in love with Peter’s mom.) Once Peter accepts Ego, it turns sitcom maudlin: Gamora thinks something is fishy about Ego’s planet; Peter gets all “Why are you trying to take this away from me?” and says Gamora is just jealous because he found his family; Gamora acts wounded because (sniff) “I thought we were your family”; etc.
Meanwhile, there’s intrigue among the Ravagers, the space-pirates who raised Peter from a boy. The Sovereigns hire them to capture battery-thief Rocket, and their leader, Yondu (Michael Rooker, stealth MVP), disappoints his crew and is subjected to a mutiny. Rocket and Yondu bond over their shared self-destructive tendencies while trying to stop the new Ravager leader, Taserface (Chris Sullivan), from killing everyone and Nebula from killing Gamora.
Gunn’s screenplay, punctuated with laughs but not what you’d call consistently funny, is blithely easygoing, never too concerned about the crises facing our heroes. I had the same issue with the last one: It’s hard to get caught up in the peril of the moment when the characters themselves don’t seem to find it very threatening. The action sequences have energy, if not a lot of personality, building to the usual summer blockbuster climax (the heroes have to blow something up). It’s all fine. It’s fine. To a large extent it’s coasting on goodwill from the previous film — but the previous film established a lot of goodwill to coast on. Now we just need some of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to show up and give these people something to do.
Eric D. Snider is one of the Guardians of Portland.