Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes its approach clear right at the very start. The titular Guardians are preparing to face off against a monstrous interdimensional being. In any other movie, this would be the initial burst of action that’s meant to immediately engage the audience. But the films keeps the focus off of the fighting. We only see glimpses of it in the background. Up front, we are instead watching Baby Groot (still voiced, inexplicably, by Vin Diesel) dance through the battlefield, seemingly unaware of the danger that’s going on all around him.And this is what happens for most of the movie. It is striking in how willing it is to put the action in the background in favor of a joke or a personal moment. There is the semblance of a larger plot, which involves Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meeting his father (Kurt Russell), who turns out to be a far stranger being than he could have ever imagined. All the while, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the queen of a powerful, technologically advanced planet, is chasing the Guardians to the far reaches of the galaxy, hoping to make them pay for the insult of some stolen batteries.Like every superhero movie, there is a massive crisis that threatens to destroy many, many things. But that doesn’t really seem to matter to this movie. Every one of these blockbusters makes some attempt at crafting emotional content. Even the Fast and Furious movies, for all their spectacle, keeps making mention of the concept of “family” in a vague bid to anchor the nonsense in something recognizably human. This movie just takes that idea further than almost any other big budget film in recent memory. This film surrounds the characters in all manner of explosions, but what it cares about the most is what’s going on within the characters themselves.This is, at times, a sloppy and unwieldy story. There are a lot of characters, and they’re all given separate little arcs. This inevitably leads to some clunky scenes with overly expedient dialogue and rushed storytelling. But the film just keeps moving forward, confident that its personality will carry things through. And for the most part, it does. The film feels like a bizarre mess at times, but it’s an endearing one. There isn’t much of a sense of peril, but there is this general feeling that the characters are actually going through something. They aren’t just punching out gods and beating the odds: they’re growing and changing and becoming more of who they really ought to be.The glimpses of the action we do see are fun and colorful. The movie draws up some pretty crazy visuals as it zips through the galaxy, at times verging on sensory overload. But again, it is still the characters and their struggles that take center stage. And to this end, it really matters that the cast is so good. Chris Pratt is just horribly charismatic, and he brings such endearing vulnerability to Peter Quill. He plays well with Kurt Russell, whose commanding presence allows him to sell the most out there qualities of the character he plays. Michael Rooker and Dave Bautista shine through their makeup, expressing painfully human qualities underneath their alien exteriors.Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels kind of self-indulgent, really. It doubles down on the quirks of the first movie, spending more time on the kind of comedic digressions that one might associate with director James Gunn. But this is not a weakness. If anything, it is what makes the film stand out from what has become an overcrowded slate of superhero cinema. This film certainly gets big, but it isn’t about just trying to construct the most absurd set piece one can imagine. It puts that largeness in the background, and just keeps telling the story of these deeply flawed characters who have all lost something, and are just trying to feel a little less lonely in a cold, unfeeling universe.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 IS NOW SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.