Chris Pratt film reviews

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 Review: Family Issues Made Blissful

Monday, May 08, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Your family will disappoint you, occasionally in life-ruining ways. It's up to you in those moments of extreme disappointment to choose your reaction. Will you let your hurt feelings harden into a toxic relationship with the people who share your blood or will you instead create a family of people willing to work with you to resolve conflicts?

Photo credit: Guardians of the Galaxy/Facebook

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), otherwise known as the intergalactic thief and sometimes hero-for-hire Star-Lord, faces this test when he meets his biological father for the first time. Unlike most of us who don't live in stories about galactic adventures, Peter’s dad is a sentient planet named Ego and he is played by Kurt Russell -- this casting is pleasingly on the nose because, in roles in films like Big Trouble in Little China, Russell gave Pratt the roadmap to building a career as a hybrid leading man-comedian, which makes the generational connection between them literal. Ego travels the stars populating planets with his celestial superpowers, reshaping them in his own, inflated self-image -- his name is not an accident. To the already egotistical Peter, having a long-lost father with a creative job and the power to do whatever he wants at that job is cause for celebration. It's like Ego is a rock star and now he wants Peter to join him on his world(s) tour. After 34 years of separation, that's everything the abandoned Peter had ever wanted.

But the movie suggests that, regardless of what Peter wants, he doesn't need to do this to have a family who loves him. Peter is aware of this and he remains skeptical of his father’s intentions for him because of the surrogate family he has created with the Guardians, and they're all working on their own family-based strife. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) try to overcome a childhood in which their space-despot father had pitted them against each other to determine which sister would be of greatest assistance to him while he conquers the galaxy. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) struggles to believe that the other Guardians have his back and won't abandon him like the scientists who created him, a bipedal, wisecracking raccoon who likes big guns. Drax (Dave Bautista) doesn't know how to live in the universe after his wife and daughter were murdered in front of him -- the mixture of grief and parental pride that tints Drax’s voice when he talks about his daughter marks perhaps the film’s most affecting moment. Tree creature Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a child who must grow up amid wild violence, which he often treats like a game because he doesn't know any better. Newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff, who builds a compassionate character while buried beneath both practical and CGI makeup) is an empathy who can understand the emotional state of anyone she touches, but she has no social skills because she has lived a lifetime without a family. Yondu (Michael Rooker) feels frozen out of Star-Lord’s life even though Yondu raised the leader of the Guardians. Peter’s relationships with these people challenge his deep-seated abandonment issues, and the drama it creates is deeper than one may expect from a movie that also features a dancing cartoon tree.

This generational and familial conflict takes place against a science fiction backdrop that is as vibrantly colorful as Star Trek: The Original Series, as whimsical as The Wizard of Oz, and as gleefully prankish as the Marx brothers. Writer-director James Gunn’s signature blend of irreverence and sci-fi action chops builds on the first Guardians movie from 2014, but this sequel is not obligated to create origin stories for this cast of characters or to establish their connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe (Captain America and the other Avengers will soon meet the Guardians on the screen). This makes Vol. 2 a refreshingly self-contained adventure that is able to hit the ground running from its earliest moments, including an opening credits sequence set to Electric Light Orchestra that could wind up the most joyful scene in a 2017 release. This frees up Gunn to focus on these characters and their problems with each other, but he never loses sight that this is an action-adventure film.

Gunn and his collaborators, especially director of photography Henry Braham and costume designer Judianna Makovsky, build a world that synthesizes the best looks from space opera stories from the last century, from Star Trek to Star Wars to Dune. Unlike other recent Marvel films, even side characters look like they occupy three-dimensional space -- they have mass. Makeup provided by the crew at Legacy Effects turns humans like actress Elizabeth Debicki into golden beings. An audience hardly needs to suspend their disbelief when Debicki, as the leader of a species that murders people for the slightest sign of disrespect, sits on a throne like a golden cyborg goddess. On Ego’s home planet, Braham shoots sets by Lauri Gaffin and Jay Hart that resemble the models of an architect, which is fitting for Ego, the universe’s most adept structural engineer/deadbeat dad.

The movie’s action may happen on a fictional planet millions of light years away from our earthbound problems, but the conflict is familiar to anyone with a tense family situation. While they fly across the screen accompanied by eye-pleasing flashing bright lights, Star-Lord and Ego use their fists and superpowers to work out their emotional issues. It's nearly impossible to choose between a life you've built and the life you fantasized about for decades. Star-Lord has to choose. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 shows how painful that decision is and how someone can move past their issues.

Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki
Rating: 4/5 stars
Available in theaters now

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