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​Gunning for the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

by Greg Carlson | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Cinema | May 10th, 2017

WARNING: The following review reveals plot information. Read only if you have seen “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

In the sequel, the franchise, and the series, the dialectical tension pitting familiarity against novelty challenges the storyteller to thread the eye of the needle. “Is it is good as the first one?” is, unsurprisingly, the question that drives conversation.

In “The Myth of Superman,” Umberto Eco recognizes a parallel conundrum for the mythological figure: the “emblematic and fixed nature which renders him easily recognizable” versus the change and development associated with novelistic characters.

Director James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” like its predecessor, is plenty entertaining and will get better with repeat views. It isn’t perfect, but neither was the first.

The cinematic incarnation of “Guardians,” like so much post-1977 space fantasy on the big screen, owes much to “Star Wars,” and at least one of the trailers for “Vol. 2” revealed that Kurt Russell would arrive as Peter “Star-Lord,” Quinn’s long-missing father.

It was a short leap, then, to imagine that Papa Ego would pull a Darth Vader-style dick move akin to “Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son.” That bad dad/lost parent plot, enhanced via Star-Lord’s status as a man-god, pads the generous running time.

The secondary stories, including the impending disappointment of the Sam Malone/Diane Chambers romance between Gamora and Peter and the bluntness of a more mirthful Drax as he figures out empath Mantis, unfold while Peter chooses between his two families.

Rocket and Groot separate from the other Guardians to keep an eye on Nebula, another whisper of “The Empire Strikes Back” tactic of splitting up the team.

Baby Groot basks in the “Awww!” goodwill of our inner dendrologist, but “Vol. 2” belongs heart and soul to the indispensable Michael Rooker. Rooker’s Yondu Udonta, who made off with all his scenes in the first “Guardians,” steals another complete set here. A more bitter than sweet pity, then, that the rich expansion of Yondu and his emergent largesse comes at the expense of his life in a neatly parallel-structured heroic sacrifice.

In my review of the inaugural “Guardians,” I complained about the relegation of Gamora to Smurfette status and the film’s overwhelmingly masculinist constitution and point of view. One of the sequel’s improvements is the psychological and emotional exploration of the sibling relationship between Gamora and Nebula.

The scenes Zoe Saldana shares with Karen Gillan are much better and more satisfying than the character’s ongoing deflections of Quill’s lower-stakes flirting. With a third round guaranteed, Gunn will hopefully provide Gamora with a level of agency worthy of Saldana’s talent.

Because we anticipate them, Gunn’s other “Guardians” hallmarks, from the ongoing additions to the “Awesome Mix” (love the Zune gag) to the 80s pop culture references to the wiggy cameos, aren’t quite as fresh this time around, but they form -- along with Howard the Duck and Stan Lee’s audience with the Watchers -- the combination of broad appeal and geek insider status that serves multiple constituencies.

The onscreen deconstruction of the lyrics of a pop song, even “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” is like dancing about architecture, but Russell’s Ego the Living Planet clearly doesn’t know any better.  

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