The trippy Marvel fun continues with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a big, nutty, spiraling sequel that brings the fun along with a lot of daddy issues.
Star-Lord a.k.a. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) had him some major mommy issues in the first movie, and this time out dad takes a turn at messing with his head. The dad comes in the form of Ego (Kurt Russell...yes!!!), who we see hanging out with Quill's mom in the '70s during the film's prologue.
After a killer opening credits sequence that features a battle with a giant slug thing while Baby Groot dances to ELO, the Guardians—including Quill, Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (David Bautista) and Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper)—find themselves on another quest. They are quickly diverted to Ego's planet, where Quill finds out more about his celestial origins.
Russell proves to be perfect casting as Quill's bombastic father, with Pratt possessing many of the legendary action film star's alluring traits. Seeing them on screen together, at one point playing catch with an energy ball Quill conjures with newfound powers, is one of the film's great joys.
It also proves to be misleading, for writer-director James Gunn isn't going to settle for an easy story about a wayward son reuniting with a dream dad. As it turns out, Ego makes Darth Vader look like Mike Brady on a paternal level. Vol. 2 is as dark and nasty as it is silly and action packed.
Quill's daddy issues don't end with Ego. Oh no, that would be too easy. Gunn and his cast have come up with a story that is far more complicated than your average comic book movie. Of course, there's also the whole sibling rivalry thing between Gamora and her twisted sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). When these two fight, it goes way beyond kicking each other in the shins.
Another subplot (the film has quite a few) involves Michael Rooker's disgraced Yondu looking for redemption. What comes of his storyline results in one of the greater surprises the franchise has offered so far. Rooker, such an underrated actor, makes Yondu's journey compelling.
All the story threads hold together well as the film ratchets up the action at a frantic pace that Gunn always manages to keep under control. The director has a way of going crazy with his visuals and pacing, yet making it all comprehensible and coherent.
Bautista, good in the first film, graduates to greatness with this one, providing most of the film's big laughs. His newly minted relationship with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego's travelling companion, and his frankness about her physical appearance, is one of the film's great running gags.
Sylvester Stallone, who is not required to wear heavy makeup, makes a brief appearance as a renegade thief, and while he doesn't share screen time with Russell, we'll just go ahead and call this a Tango & Cash reunion.
A couple of years back, Yes album cover illustrator Roger Dean took James Cameron to court over Avatar's production designs looking a lot like his work. He might want to fire up the lawyer brigade again, because Ego's planet looks like it was completely inspired by Dean's paintings. Whenever there was a pan of the Ego planet's landscape, I had Yes's "Starship Trooper" playing in my head.
While Yes doesn't make the classic rock soundtrack, songs like Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" and Cheap Trick's "Surrender" do. As did its predecessor, Vol. 2 works as an ode to classic vinyl rock, as well as those album covers.
The Guardians will be back in a second sequel, along with an appearance in next year's Avengers: Infinity War, so the fun is just beginning. As always, stick around for the credits; there are many scenes still to be had after the main movie is over.