Never let it be said that Marvel Studios, in its continuing attempt to garner a stranglehold on the superhero cinematic genre, doesn’t now and then try to convey simplistic themes in its movies that audiences can easily relate to. With Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (Disney/Marvel, Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes, Directed by James Gunn rated PG-13) the emphasis on the importance of familial relationships clearly resonates throughout the film and for better or worse becomes an overlying theme that both helps and detracts from the movie’s ultimate success as a whole. When all is said and done, is the reliance on something we’ve become so familiar with in our hit movies lately (see: Fate and the Furious) something that allows vol.2 to reach the same cinematic heights as its predecessor?

The original movie landed with audiences back in August 2014 as a major surprise from both a critical and box office standpoint that no one saw coming. With the first movie admirably stepping up to the task of assembling the galaxy’s version of its misfit parts together to save the universe it seemed on the surface that keeping the group together in the second film would be a much easier task.  But as is often the case in the movies the concept of dissension and infighting leading to a breakup of our much beloved crew seemed like an idea too good to pass up this time around.

In this go around, our assembled team faces more peril but not essentially from their battles with their enemies (which are basically book-ended in the film) but in the rhetoric they dispense to those they hold most dear. With the crew facing repercussions from a planetary rescue gone awry (for reasons only the Guardians of the Galaxy can come up with of course) a helping hand is offered to the team by a celestial God named Ego (played by Kurt Russell) who in return reunites with his long lost son and leader of the team, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) that he had been searching for some time. With this reunification comes the realization that Star-Lord may be more than just the swashbuckling hero audiences have come to know the more time is spent on Ego’s very own planet.

And so it is with Star-Lord once again leading the way, the bond between he and his galactic colleagues through jealously, resentment and betrayal puts our crew in the most precarious of situations. But in doing so, Gunn’ s approach to this film has taken a decidedly different turn as even the feel of this movie throughout cannot quite match the original’s charming touch. Gunn uses vol. 2 as major dispensary of character development as each of the major characters involved, be it Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and even the exiled Ravager Yandu (Michael Rooker) and Gamora’s vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillian) all have their day in the sun having their stories told to a certain extent but in the process the movie’s first and second acts at times comes to a grinding halt with not a whole lot going on.

While there is a substantial amount of well placed wit, cuteness from childlike tree alien Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and humor in the film (more so than in the first film) one gets a sense that it is distributed so freely in order to camouflage the fact there is less integral action to the plot overall. This causes some pacing issues that make it difficult for this film to reach the same plateaus as the movie iteration is follows. The villains in this film are not always as cut and dry as in the first go around which weakens Guardians overall and has the audience searching for other reasons to enjoy the movie.

That being said even the lulls in the narrative get outweighed by continued joyous laughs, odes to pop culture icons of the past and strong performances again from Bautista, Pratt and Saldana. The third act makes up for a lot of faults and drives home that strong family theme which provides strength for the team but also helps keep the film from being a disappointing turn for the audience. Does Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2  reach the same star system as its predecessor that surprised and delighted audiences  when it was a relatively unknown Marvel comics entry? Perhaps not but it still manages to find its own path with its humor and character-building even if the audience was expecting the movie to reach another galaxy.

3-5-stars

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