It’s not the Ivan Turgenev novel, but “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is definitely about fathers and sons. As much of a slam-bang sci-fi adventure as the movie is, the Marvel Studios sequel, opening May 5, is at heart a family drama about all the ways fathers can shape a son or a daughter’s life for better and for worse.
“Look, I’m a kid from a very dysfunctional family and my parents are very open about this,” the film’s writer-director, James Gunn, says by phone from Los Angeles. “My family were all very large drinkers — my dad is sober now, but he was a very big drinker when I was growing up — so when you have a family that’s very imperfect but at the heart of that family is a lot of love, I think it gives you a measured, multifaceted view of family life. And I think that multifaceted view of family life is what I apply to the ‘Guardians’ movies,” he says. “To me they are, at the core, above being a space adventure, above being a comedy — they really are a family drama.”
The film picks up not long after Gunn’s 2014 original, with half-human, half-alien Peter Quill, the self-dubbed Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), now an intergalactic gun-for-hire alongside fellow Guardians of the Galaxy Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and the treelike Groot (voice of Vin Diesel).
Together with Gamora’s fugitive adoptive sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), they find themselves pursued by space-pirate Ravagers led by the lethal Yondu (Michael Rooker) — who had been hired to deliver Quill in boyhood to his biological father, but kept him as a crew member and raised him instead. Quill’s father turns out to be the human avatar of a living planet named Ego (Kurt Russell). Between the paternal triangle involving Quill, Yondu and Ego, and the murderous relationship between Nebula and Gamora, it’s like Thanksgiving dinner with the Manson Family.
As it happens, some of Gunn’s real-life family actually appear in the movie: dad Jim Gunn Sr. has a cameo as “Weird old man,” mom Leota Gunn is “Weird old man’s mistress,” and Gunn’s actor brother, Sean (Kirk Gleason on “Gilmore Girls”), plays Yondu’s lieutenant, Kraglin.
One of six children of a St. Louis attorney, Gunn married “The Office” star Jenna Fischer in 2000 — though his mentor, low-budget legend Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment, did not officiate, as his hometown paper claimed. “They said I was married by Lloyd Kaufman, which is not true,” says Gunn. “He was at my wedding and he gave a speech.” Gunn and Fischer separated after seven years and divorced a year later, and Gunn is now with actress Jennifer Holland (TV’s “Sun Records”).
The filmmaker would also like to correct claims that Glenn Close reprises her “GotG” role as galactic law-enforcement official Nova Prime Rael. “We shot a couple of lines with her, which will probably appear on the BluRay in the deleted scenes,” he says. “But I was trying to cram Nova Prime into the second movie as opposed to having it happen organically.” And while he directed the Stan Lee cameo in director Scott Derrickson’s “Doctor Strange,” he did not direct the Marvel Comics impresario’s cameos in the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” But, he reveals, “I did do one that I can’t talk about.”
Up next for him: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” He also is an executive producer on the next Avengers movies, the two-part “Avengers: Infinity War.” Is he worried about being stretched as thin as a two-dimensional being?
“Oh, God, no!” he says, laughing. “I have three years in which I’m going to spend all that time doing ‘Guardians 3,’ and most of my work on ‘Infinity War’ is already done.”
In his 2 1⁄2-star review that ran in Thursday’s Newsday, Rafer Guzmán said “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has “Some fun moments, but [it’s] not nearly as fresh or freewheeling as the first film.” You can read the entire review at Newsday.com/movies
Here is what some other critics said:
The vibe is corporate, and of the most depressing kind: It’s not enough that you’ve paid for this product. You have to sit through commercials for the next one and the next and the next. — New York Magazine
Just like the first one, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a winning and wonderfully relatable gem. — USA Today
It’s still a good Marvel movie (at times, a very good one), but it’s a comedown from the dizzying highs of the first installment. — Entertainment Weekly
Let’s be honest, because it won’t cost us anything: This one’s a step down from the original. — Chicago Tribune