Guardians of the Galaxy 2: ‘Expensive. Vulgar. Desperate’

Film review: The sequel has more quips, more kitsch, more spectacle, less plot

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
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Cert: 12A
Genre: Sci-Fi
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell Karen Gillan
Running Time: 2 hrs 16 mins

Oh, "volume 2"? Get them. I suppose it's less pompous than "Dawn of Justice". But those words do seem a little grandiose when attached to a Marvel sub-franchise that prides itself on providing endless good fun. Of course, the Guardians of the Galaxy "volumes" – the first of which was a surprise US smash in 2014 – are also rumoured to be frightfully, frightfully clever. Internal references and smart-aleck nods abound. So we should, perhaps, have expected such mild indulgence.

The prologue of the second “volume” really is good fun and (technically at least) very clever. It is 1980 and two young people are driving through the United States. If you didn’t know that this version of Kurt Russell had been digitally de-aged, then you really could have taken him for the 29-year-old who played Elvis. That will do well enough.

Back in the film's present, we are treated to an intergalactic punch-up that, in typically arch fashion, is pushed upstage while, in focus by the footlights, Groot, the loveable ambulatory plant, dances to ELO's Mr Blue Sky. What did we do to deserve this?

There is, of course, a narrative purpose to the endless aural cheese – chief Guardian Peter Quill's late mom loved this stuff – but it is really here to satiate a voguish addiction to 1970s kitsch. As in the recent ho-hum Free Fire, mere inclination to that era stands in for wit and invention. Prepare ears for Glen Campbell's Southern Nights and Silver's Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang. Why not just play Terry Wogan's Floral Dance and have done with it?

Anyway, there is also some sort of a plot and we are required to make cautious allusion to it. We’ll do our best. Following various violent conflagrations and an encounter with a golden princess played by Elizabeth Debicki, the Guardians of the Galaxy encounter the man that the earlier version of Kurt Russell has now become. He is an intergalactic megalomaniac called, yes, Ego who lives with an empath called Mantis (Pom Klementieff) on a planet that appears to have been designed by Jeff Koons’s more vulgar brother.

The plains are decorated with lurid blobs. The furniture is 1968’s idea of 1995. Elsewhere, a group of violent maniacs led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan) – the stupidity of whose name is a deliberate joke – are massing with mischief in mind.

In truth, the interweaving plots are so flimsy and ill defined that they turn to dust as soon as you grasp them. A lot of things happen. But few of those things lead inexorably to the next thing and none merges with any other to form a satisfactory pattern. This is just scaffolding erected to shelve another few yards of Guardians of the Galaxy Stuff.

There is a great deal of quip-heavy dialogue, too much of which depends on being glib when confronted with awesome or terrifying situations.

Chris Pratt, back as the bluff Peter Quill, does that stuff perfectly adequately. Dave Bautista is funnier as enormous Drax, whose stuff is ingenuous frankness. Zoe Saldana has not nearly enough stuff as the (what other adjective to use?) green Gamora.

When stuck for something to do, they will walk slowly towards the camera while Fleetwood Mac’s motor-racing music outstays its welcome yet again.

There is some visual imagination on display. The psychedelic mischief is certainly preferable to the emo-misery of the recent DC adaptations. But the overriding sense is of a desperate attempt to force us to have more fun than any adult needs. At its best, the aesthetic plays like an enormously expensive version of The Banana Splits.

At its worst, it comes across like a vulgar birthday party hosted by an indulgent billionaire for a hard-to-please stepchild. More balloons. More clowns. More planets. More purple food. I feel sick. I wanna go home.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist