I have been a fan of Chris Pratt's going all the way back to 2008's underrated comic book flick WANTED and his subsequent co-starring role in one of my top 10 sitcoms of all time, PARKS & RECREATION. However, I never thought that Pratt would steal the mantle of an A-list MARVEL superhero and usurp so many that have tried and failed to fit into their tailored screen ready costume. It is hard not to root for Pratt after all of those years watching him steal scenes from comedy heavyweights like Amy Poehler, Nick Offerman & Aziz Ansari.
Then, in 2013, Pratt was surprisingly cast in James Gunn's GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a B-List comic book that I personally always loved but never thought that it could fit into Kevin Feige's master construct that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I absolutely love that I was so wrong in thinking that the first GOTG was going to be the first possible clunker for MARVEL Studios but it wound up grossing insane three-quarters of a BILLION dollars worldwide. That is the kind of star power that shakes up Hollywood and Pratt has made the most of it vaulting into other franchises like JURASSIC WORLD whose sequel is currently shooting. Now, the summer movie season kicks off with Gunn returning to helm what I now consider to be the GODFATHER II of the MARVEL movies; that's how much I loved this sequel.
I enjoy the IMAX 3D format but sometimes find the 3-story screen and special effects a little jarring giving me a fairly epic migraine. However, through a trial and error process, I finally figured out where the sweet spot to sit in the theater is without feeling the need for a painkiller and man did it pay off. At a steep $30 (hey, its LA), I settled into my matinee screening extremely ready to kick off the biggest movie season of the year and divorce myself from the constant feed of bad news from media outlets around the world. GOTG VOL. 2 is the sequel that Junkies have been waiting for with an absolutely gorgeous palette of colors that will immerse you completely into the intergalactic saga that has at least two more installments slated plus appearances in another two AVENGERS flicks. Also, Gunn has magically orchestrated 70's & 80's pop music into a sprawling narrative that you would never think could play a real role in a MARVEL film. The soundtrack is just that perfect for each track mixed into their scenes with very well thought out placement in the narrative.
We all knew going in that screen icon Kurt Russell was cast to play Ego The Living Planet, aka Peter Quill's long-lost poppa. The fact that Quill's Pop was still alive was teased in the final minutes of the first installment when Yondu & Kraglin alluded to Star-Lord's long-lost lineage. The opening of the film shows a de-aged Kurt Russell right out of his slew of 70's Disney movies. I don't know how this technology works or what it takes to achieve but it is amazing. I think that after seeing a very dead since 1994 Peter Cushing come back to life as Grand Moff Tarkin in ROGUE ONE made me a believer but after seeing the young Russell on screen with Peter's beloved late mother, I think this tech will change the entire movie industry.
Thankfully, all is explained in the epic sequel that truly spares no expense. Right from the start, we are treated to a familial team of Guardians that although a team, act more like a big family at Sunday dinner arguing over who gets the last piece of steak. Although they are now officially the designated protectors of the galaxy, the squad is a hysterical hybrid of complicated family dynamics. At its core, the narrative from the first film continues as Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Drax & the utterly adorable Baby Groot doing what they do best for Ayesha, the golden-clad leader of the Sovereign race. The crew is hired to protect and retrieve a cache of valuable batteries in exchange for the release of Gamora's very angry sister and daughter of the mad titan Thanos, Nebula. Naturally, the Guardians get into some trouble when Rocket decides to keep some of the rare batteries for himself to sell and Ayesha releases a fleet of unmanned drones to reign the crew in. However, a strange figure comes to their rescue only to be revealed as Ego, Peter's estranged father who explains Quill's checkered childhood and why he was taken from Earth. Ego is flanked by new cast member Pom Klementieff as Mantis who makes it clear that things on Ego (he is a living planet after all), may not be what we think.
Ayesha tasks Yondu, Quill's de-facto father that has always had a soft spot for the Earthling, to reign in the Guardians. However, a mutiny against Yondu arises with Nebula doing anything she can to get sweet vengeance from her sister Gamora who she blames for all of the abuse suffered from their shared father. The planet that Ego inhabits is visually stunning and really a rich and lush setting for the epic sequel. The heavy CGI environments are seriously some of the best that I have ever seen and the story definitely helped me broaden my thinking as to how the INFINITY WAR films will tie in the Earth-bound heroes like The Avengers, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, etc. It is seriously going to be epic when they all share the same movie screen--a dream come true for so many Junkies.
Ego reveals himself to be a Celestial and regales to Peter the thousands of spawn he has produced over millions of years but none were ever worthy to wield and share his God-like power. It was only when Ego heard of an Earthling that handled an Infinity Stone (the climax of the first film) that he tracked down Peter and realized just who he was. I really liked how they gave Yondu a very integral back-story of his conflicted role in snatching up all of Ego's potential Celestial children, handing them off to the God who then disposed of them after they proved unworthy of handling their unified cosmic power. In fact, Ego has planted seedlings on planets everywhere hypnotizing Peter to help him activate what he has set in motion years prior to thousands of planets. However, when Ego reveals that he deliberately gave Peter's mother a brain tumor, this turns Quill back to the light, realizing that his birth father is not the man he had hoped. Again, the special effects are just mind-boggling in these scenes as we realize that it is Yondu that was Peter's real "Dad," but not his father. Veteran actor Michael Rooker gives another excellent performance as he chews the scenery with a larger part in the sequel and his importance to the GOTG.
To give away anything else would be against the Junkie code but the entire crew gels so perfectly in this sequel with an airtight and hilarious script by director James Gunn. The auteur has created a space universe for MARVEL that I think will be the backbone of all that is to come over the next five to ten years in the MCU. More than anything, GOTG VOL. 2 has heart, a lot of it. Its a film for families that I could see even my own mother enjoying even though she does not know the first thing about comic books and would probably be asking me how they made Kurt Russell look so young for the full running time of 136 minutes. It is truly just that enjoyable a film.
VOL. 2 exceeded my expectations and with such a stellar cast and surprise guest spots from mega-stars like Sylvester Stallone as the Ravager Stakar Ogord (Starhawk), I can easily see spin-offs already be in the works from the House of Ideas. I should note that Drax, Rocket & Baby Groot are absolute scene stealers in a competition of one-upmanship that runs the entire film. Right now, in my opinion, the MCU can do no wrong and I am thinking that the sequel will recoup its $200 million budget within 10 days or so. As far as Pratt goes, the sky is the limit for a leading man that can handle being that rare acting hybrid of comedic, dramatic & action hero. He is that generational talent that has paid his dues and has not forgotten where he comes from. Oh, and The Watcher's are watching...