PLOT Space-traveler Peter Quill and his motley crew arrive at a planet that may hold the key to his true origins. (Movie opens May 5.)
CAST Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell
RATED PG-13 (strong violence and gruesome imagery)
BOTTOM LINE Some fun moments, but not nearly as fresh or freewheeling as the first film.
Classic rock nuggets from a vintage Walkman once again fuel the soundtrack for a sci-fi action movie in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” which opens May 5. In this sequel to Marvel’s smash hit from 2014, our rambunctious hero, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), believes he’s the son of Ego (Kurt Russell), a god in human form. The paternity test? They both love “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” the 1972 hit by Looking Glass.
“You know,” says Ego, filling his son’s head with dreams of immortality, “you and I are the sailor in that song.”
It’s a cute pop-culture moment that could only happen in this nostalgic-futurist universe but, like much else in “Vol. 2,” it feels overly familiar. The first film was a fresh, funny, irreverent entry into the formulaic Marvel canon, but this time writer-director James Gunn is trying to steal his first film’s mojo, going for jokes that worked before and relying too much on smart-mouth attitude. As for that retro mixtape soundtrack, it nearly takes the starring role.
“Vol. 2” isn’t without its high points. The sexual tension between the steely Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the warm-blooded Quill still simmers — “like Sam and Diane on ‘Cheers,’ ” he says — while Dave Bautista’s socially challenged Drax seems interested in Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a sheltered woman trapped on Ego’s too-perfect planet. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel once again make a fine comedy team as the voices of the surly Rocket Raccoon and the treelike Baby Groot (reduced to an adorable sapling after his explosive fate in the last movie). Michael Rooker adds some welcome complexity to Yondu, the endearingly murderous space pirate.
Like many Marvel sequels, “Vol. 2” has a mandate to lay the groundwork for subsequent blockbusters. Time must be taken to introduce new villains (the snobby Sovereigns, led by a gold-painted Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha) and establish Gamora’s vengeful sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as a wild card who will surely cause trouble in the future. All this makes the film feel overlong and leaves the story — a twist on “Forbidden Planet,” with Ego as an all-consuming force — feeling stretched.
Any action film that sets its opening sequence to ELO’s “Mister Blue Sky” can’t be all bad, but the “Guardians” franchise will need more than an excellent vinyl collection from here on out.