“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’” goes wrong right away. Straight out of the box it serves up a digitally young-ified Kurt Russell grinning along to the syrupy strains of “Brandy,” one of the wimpiest pop tunes of the 1970s. Not a good sign.
The scene is supposed to set up a back story to give context for what’s to come, but the sight of old, er, young, Kurt looking like a fugitive from Madame Tussaud’s house of waxworks is distractingly creepy.
Cut quickly from that — Earth in the 1980s — to outer space decades later, where the Guardians gang, Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), green-hued Gamora (Zoe Saldana), massively muscled rage dude Drax (Dave Bautista) and Rocket, the machine-gun toting raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) are doing battle with a giant multitentacled CG alien. They’re in the background, being flung hither and yon, while in the foreground is the big-eyed sapling-sized and ultracute Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, sounding nothing like Vin Diesel as they’ve babied up his voicings) stealing the scene with effortless ease.
Yes, the toddler tree is the single righteously funny thing in the picture (a snaggle-toothed bad guy actually says he’s too adorable to kill) while everything else is noisy CG excess and no fun at all.
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In this one, everyone but everyone has issues.
Father-son issues, with Peter expressing extreme peevement at his papa, played by Russell as a godlike alien, for having abandoned him and his dying mother on Earth when he was but a lad.
Surrogate father-son issues with Peter remonstrating with blue meanie Yondu (Michael Rooker) over having kidnapped the Earth kid and turned him to a life of crime and threatened to eat him if he didn’t take to criminality.
Sibling issues, with Gamora and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) bashing the bejesus out of each other, the source of which, boiled down, is along the lines of dad always liked you best.
Even alien-raccoon issues as Rocket and Yondu discover a common bond as they describe how they were both terribly abused in their younger days.
Most of the misery is proclaimed at the tops of these characters’ lungs. So much SHOUTING! But they have to do that because a lot of the angsty scenes take place against the backdrop of massive explosions and so they have to yell to be heard over that racket.
Space battles there are galore. And mass killings. Gracious. People blown up and impaled in big messy bunches.
As was the case in the first picture, Gunn salts the soundtrack with vintage oldies and crams the script with pop culture references to everything from David Hasselhoff’s “Knight Rider” TV show (Peter a big fan, revered Hasselhoff as a kind of father figure) to “Cheers” to Pac-Man to even (shudder) Howard the Duck, back in snippet scenes as he was in the first movie.
It’s all intended to be clever, but all it really does is contribute to the clutter of this overly busy and overlong sequel.
It’s a rare misstep for the usually surefooted folks behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell and the voices of Bradley Cooper (Rocket) and Vin Diesel (Baby Groot).
Director: James Gunn.
Running time: 2:18.
Rated: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content.