Galaxy family therapy

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

**** ½ out of 5 | 138 min. | PG-13


In comic-book cinema, launching a new character or group of characters—as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy did—requires an origin story, with all of the accompanying table-setting. Making sequels in this genre, which go off serialized comics with hundreds of stories at the ready, should be easy, with freedom to deepen the characters. Instead, most of them go for the same as before, except bigger.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finds writer-director James Gunn taking a strange but ultimately satisfying mix of both these approaches. In some ways it is a “bigger and more” variation on the first film, but it’s also richer. Where Guardians of the Galaxy had to spend time gathering the team, this time Gunn brings the team together. It happens with a set-up that was telegraphed in the first film, based on the previously mysterious paternity of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt).

After the team—Quill, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel)—makes enemies of a haughty race called The Sovereign, they’re saved by a powerful entity called Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Quill’s long-absent dad.

Complications naturally arise amidst this happy family reunion. The Sovereigns seek out Quill’s old captor-captain Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his crew to track down the Guardians for their insolence, while Gamora’s sister Nebula continues her homicidal brand of sibling rivalry.

Throw in another new character— The empathic Mantis—and you have the makings for another sequel that merely ups the character count and scope of peril. Even the climatic threat feels like the Marvel brain trust sat down and figured, “What if we threatened the existence of every planet, everywhere?”

It all works in because every character pulls more or less in the same story direction. Where the original collected a bunch of misfits for one necessary mission, Vol. 2 asks the obvious question: “What keeps them together after that?”

The answer is their individual brokenness and isolation. Every one of them—except maybe the blissfully ignorant Groot—has a traumatic family past, or a sense of being left alone. A dysfunctional family dynamic might be familiar for super-hero team internal conflict, but Vol. 2 sells it with a genuine sense of emotional consequence.

It’s also delightfully goofy. Gunn turns some of the action scenes into elaborate jokes. The opening sequence finds Baby Groot dancing obliviously to E.L.O.’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the team takes on a giant fire-breathing, tentacle menace. Yet another moment of danger is interrupted by a tape cassette. And there’s plenty of welcome eccentricity—with Drax generally stealing the show—between the classic-rock chestnuts.

Yes, Vol. 2 does have the much-talked-about five post-credits scenes, including the obligatory tease for the next installment, and one that continues the family-relationship theme in a particularly amusing riff. Those relationships can be sprawling and messy, just like saving the galaxy.