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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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When the Guardians of the Galaxy first made their cinematic debut in 2014, no-one (bar hardcore comic fans) knew what to expect from a superhero movie featuring a talking raccoon and a big tree.

As a result, the film took us by surprise in the best way - giving us fun, likeable characters, endlessly quotable one-liners and the catchiest soundtrack in recent film history.

Following that level of cultural phenomena and popularity is no easy feat, but with Vol. 2, James Gunn gives us a hugely enjoyable intergalactic romp that will have you laughing, crying and singing along almost as much as the first film.

If Vol. 1 was the Guardians' Avenger-type origin story, then Vol. 2 is like Age of Ultron - only much better. Following their formation, we join the rag-tag group of misfits in the midst of a seemingly heroic mission, employed by a race of vain, sexy gold people known as the Sovereign.

Ever the dysfunctional family - complete with a Baby Groot in tow - the group soon find themselves at odds with each other, before suddenly being swept into the mysterious world-building charms of Ego (Kurt Russell), who, as it turns out, is the long-absent celestial father of Chris Pratt's Star Lord. 

Though expectations for this film will undoubtedly be very, very high, let me assure you that there is certainly a lot to love about this second venture. One of the most alluring things about the first film is the chemistry between the central five Guardians and the way they bounced off each other in their interpersonal relationships. Gunn manages to maintain that chemistry with a script that is rich with wacky one-liners and progressive character development. What's more is that he also succeeds in adding new or existing characters to the central group, with a lot of ease and humour.

Dave Batista's Drax threatens to steal almost every scene he is in and is hilarious (and briefly touching) in his interactions with Ego's naive ward, Mantis, who proves to be just as much of an oddball. Baby Groot - the undeniable star of the show - is also intensely captivating - inspiring laughs, tears and an inordinate amount of "awwwww"ing from his gestures alone. (If you liked his dance moves at the end of the first film, just wait for the opening title sequence of the sequel).

The central theme throughout the film is about family and within several interpersonal exchanges, we explore the histories and motivations of several characters. Peter's daddy issues take centreframe within the plot as he becomes entranced by the huge possibilities that Ego teaches him. At the same time, his former captor/father figure, Yondu, also returns to the fray, revealing more about his backstory as a disgraced ravager.

It's a real pleasure to see Michael Rooker's Yondu play a bigger part in this film, bringing as much heart and humour as he does magical arrow-fuelled violence. Similarly, Kurt Russell is perfect as Ego, echoing the same inate sense of cool as Pratt, but with a much harder, more ambiguous edge. As well as this, the film also explores tensions between sisters/nemeses, Gamora and Nebula and competitive brotherly figures, Peter and Rocket. To add a studio-required element of romance, the film also slowly picks at the sexual tension between Peter and Gamora (which thanks to another sultry song and dance number from the soundtrack just about borders on interesting).

Though the interactions between characters are enjoyable, the overall plot is somewhat held back by the presence of The Sovereign, and their High Priestess, Ayesha. Though they are useful for setting up the story at the beginning of the film, every subsequent scene in which we return to their foiled plotting feels long-winded. Despite being sexy and golden, they seem like very straightforward secondary antagonists, that are nowhere near as interesting as the other potential villains like Nebula and the ravagers. 

As is to be expected with a film like this, the visual effects of the film are largely very good - so good in fact, that the flashback scene with Peter's mum and a young Kurt Russell is actually a little bit unnerving. The soundtrack is also good, retaining a similar eclectic mix of rock and soul anthems to explode things to. Is it as iconic as the first mixtape? No. But it will still have you toe-tapping in your seat.

With a strong string of one-liners and cultural references and another round of excellent performances, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, still has all the hallmarks of a crowd pleaser. Though the story lags a little behind its predecessor, it's still great fun to be back in the Guardians' company.

Oh, and it should hardly need saying at this point in the MCU, but stay til the end of the credits. Five post-credit scenes of varying intrigue and humour await you. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 is set to arrive in UK cinemas on Friday 28th April through Walt Disney Studios.

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