Wanted: More baby Groot in everything.
The adorable, inch-high, tree-like creature (voiced by a pitched-up Vin Diesel) is undoubtedly the best thing about this rollicking sequel to the 2014 smash hit. Like its predecessor, it combines wry, self-referential humour with a pleasant, nostalgia-inducing late ‘70s-early ‘80s soundtrack — a proven combination that has earned the (then) underdog franchise upwards of $700 million in the past, and a feat that is likely to repeat and better itself here.
I normally don’t like to talk about whether a film will earn big money or not, but it’s hard to pretend that Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 — or any Marvel movie — exists for any other purpose. Cinema is, at its core, an art form, but movies like these are more like theme park rides projected on a screen.
The artfulness is in the eye-popping visual effects, as good as a $200 million budget can buy, and in the way director James Gunn visualises and stages set-pieces that are, in every way, more handsomely mounted and ambitious than before.
Right off the bat, there’s a wonderful opening sequence set to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky, in which Baby Groot prances around delightfully to the song’s infectious groove while the eponymous Guardians — Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and the wily raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) — battle an octopus-like alien monster on a futuristic planet.
In case you’d forgotten every single thing about the previous movie, as I had, this sequence exists to remind you that each of these characters have defining traits, ranging from Quill’s wise-cracking, man-child vibe to Drax’s emotionally stunted and hilariously tone-deaf narcissism.
As sequel plots go, this one is more interesting than most. The screenplay, penned by Gunn himself, goes off-script from the comics (as per what Marvel mega-nerd friends tell me) to tackle an enemy who appears less insidious than they actually are. New characters are introduced, such as Ego (a staggeringly handsome Kurt Russell), who, as it turns out is Quill’s god-like father, and the Sovereigns, a race of beings who are completely golden from head to toe, in an apparent nod to the silent German expressionist masterpiece, Metropolis (1927). And Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-faced Ravager who trained Quill in the art of thievery, gets a surprising amount of screen-time and dimensional heft in this movie, as does Gamora's glowering, estranged cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 often resembles a Jackson Pollock painting in terms of good cinematic ideas all thrown at the screen, creating what seems like a pastiche of meaningless splatters that different viewers may experience differently. Yes, there are many scenes that are downright hilarious, such as one in which Rocket patiently tries to explain to Baby Groot how to set off an explosive during the climax, and then there are others, like the mock-aggressive banter between Rocket and Quill, where the jokes don’t always land elegantly. By the time the obligatory Marvel motherlode climax comes around, one is less invested in the film's actual plot and is more interested in isolating moments they can take home with them (and I mean over and above the multiple comic book-geek Easter eggs — such as a quick Howard The Duck cameo — Gunn has casually sprinkled all over his screenplay).
It isn’t all empty movie calories, though — amidst the CGI-fuelled action, there are thoughtful moments that talk of childhoods lost and regained, how one makes the distinction between friends and family, and what fatherhood truly entails.
These nuggets of insight are dropped in at various points in the movie, like the tiniest chocolate chips in an overwhelmingly rich and sweet cookie that’s hard to resist and even harder to digest. But then, that’s what the audience wants, and that’s what it shall get. As long as Baby Groot is along for the ride, it’s hard to complain. What a pity he’ll be a sullen teenager in the next outing.
(The author is a film critic and culture journalist who resides in Mumbai. Previously, he was the entertainment editor at a leading website and has written for a number of publications. In his spare time, he makes music. When free from all of the above, he travels.)