‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ Offers Fans a Cosmically Good Time

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is exactly what you would expect from a “Guardians of the Galaxy” sequel. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) are still wreaking havoc across the galaxy along with Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced once again by Vin Diesel, albeit in a squeakier register). They bicker, they shoot giant guns, they crack jokes that only your inner eighth grade boy would appreciate, and they strut in slow-motion to yet another rockin’, poppin’ ‘80s soundtrack. In other words, it’s harmless, simple-minded fun.

The Guardians start out on a straighter path, having been hired to guard a set of superpowered batteries by the genetically advanced Sovereign race, led by the stone-willed, gold-plated High Priestess Ayesha (played by Elizabeth Debicki of “The Night Manager’ fame). In exchange, they are given Gamora’s sadistic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), last seen vowing vengeance against her adoptive father, Thanos. But when Rocket makes off with the batteries they were supposed to be protecting (you had one job, Rocket), the High Priestess chases the Guardians down with her fleet, which is remotely piloted by a roomful of Sovereign gamers in a retro-futuristic arcade, complete with “pew! pew!” sound effects and a regretful “Game Over” ditty. Thanks to a timely, rather literal deus ex machina intervention, the Guardians are rescued, and Quill, Gamora and Drax are taken to a lush, ornately designed planet belonging to Ego (Kurt Russell), a celestial, lowercase “g” god claiming to be Quill’s father. As it turns out, he’s not quite the father Quill’s looking for.

If the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” was about becoming a family, “Vol. 2” – also written and directed by James Gunn – is about being a family. This theme is hammered home a bit too much, and additional messages about “tough love” veer dangerously into the territory of straight-up abuse. (Sure, Michael Rooker’s Yondu beat Quill and threatened to eat him, the movie tells us – but he was doing so because he loved him!) Despite this uncomfortable disconnect, two relationships felt particularly gratifying: the unconventional, budding romance between bluntly energetic Drax and sweetly naive Mantis (Pom Klementieff from 2013’s “Oldboy”), Ego’s empathic personal assistant, as well as the interplay between psychopathic sisters Gamora and Nebula. Though Thor and brother Loki have been duking it out over the course of several Marvel films, it’s refreshing to see two fierce, flawed, angry alien women do the same.

Humor, of course, is ubiquitous in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Some of it falls flat, like an early conversation about Drax’s bowel movements and a gag that ridicules the name “Taserface” (Chris Sullivan). But every line hollered by Drax is a winner; it’s impossible to resist such unironic sincerity. Baby Groot proves to be a valuable comedic addition as well – In one scene, he attempts to interpret a request by an imprisoned Yondu and Rocket, and the extended sequence feels like a good ol’ vaudeville sketch. Most memorably, “Guardians 2” boasts an opening credits sequence so winkingly irreverent that it rivals that of “Deadpool.”

The movie panders to fans by tossing out pop culture references with wild abandon, securing half a dozen celebrity cameos (listen for more than just a lot of talk about one David Hasselhoff), and confirming a widely-held theory with regards to Stan Lee’s Marvel movie cameos. Visually, “Guardians 2” feels like a dizzying but exhilarating trip through Candyland – who cares about the exact purpose of those rainbow-tinted bubbles on Ego’s planet, aren’t they pretty? Unsurprisingly, this movie is the complete tonal opposite of anything coming out of DC.

Even if the plot feels stale and some of the humor is downright childish, the infectious enthusiasm of the cast will win over most hardened souls. Sure, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is about as subtle as Drax himself, But, hey: who doesn’t love Drax?

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” hits theaters nationwide on May 5.