I can’t imagine that many readers will hear Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” and remember 9th grade gym class. In suburban San Diego, I choreographed a dance routine to the song – “my life, my love and my lady is the sea” – using jazz steps and a red rubber four-square ball. I was insanely uncool but, boy, did I think I could groove.
And, so, when James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 plucks that tune from the soundtrack of my past for its opening sequence, which features a dimply younger version of Kurt Russell as alien Ego listening on the radio while his earth girl rocks out, I began to smile. And I never stopped, not until the final song [no spoilers here], another favorite that invariably makes me weep teen-girl-tears.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★1/2
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Steve Englehart
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone
Running time: 136 mins.
Ego’s “Brandy”-besotted date in the Starman-style prolog is Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock). She’s the future mother of Peter (Chris Pratt). When, in the 2014 blockbuster, a brain tumor shortened Meredith’s character arc, the tragedy sent the future Guardian of the Galaxy spinning on a space-quest that includes a search for his father – biological and spiritual.
Propelled by loss, Peter/Star-Lord’s accumulates a rag-tag family of friends that includes Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Bautista). And, of course, Groot – a talking tree-being chopped at the end of the last movie but sprouting here as the mischievous toddler twig with a limited vocabulary (voice of Vin Diesel).
In this episode of the irreverent sci-fi serial, Peter and his crew face their biggest test until the next movie (already in development): reuniting with his father Ego, fighting off The Ravagers and a race of golden space-snobs led by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), and saving the universe from a megalomaniacal God who considers the galaxy his personal Play-Doh.
The reunion of the Guardians cements Pratt’s mega-stardom. His Star-Lord has a shaggy young Kurt Russell vibe (think Big Trouble in Little China). And, oh, Zoe Saldana works it as overcompensating tough girl extraordinaire Gamora, nearly naked but covered in that Wicked-green skin of her bruised character! The entire ensemble entertains, with Russell providing a dose of kick-back, kick-ass action plus a great riff on the (alleged?) deeper meaning of “Brandy.”
As for the visuals, the drop-dead gorgeous, often iridescent, 3D effects that illuminate distant planets are trippy (a code for consider getting baked before you see this movie). Considering the CGI battles, I’ve reached the point – somewhere around Michael Bay’s second soulless Transformers nonsense — where these space fights became meaningless. Good guys. Bad guys. Yadda Yadda Yadda. It’s all CGI to me.
While Marvel metastasizes as a movie brand, the irreverent Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has become a healthy off-shoot. There’s something loose-limbed and unexpected about this series, as if we gathered the zany aliens of other galaxies, Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Paul‘s titular stoner slacker, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Edgar in Men in Black, Londo Mollari from Babylon Five or Star Trek‘s Harry Mudd. Varsity players Captain Fantastic and Thor take your shield and your hammer and your solemn superhero powers and play nicely elsewhere. We’re going to stay here and groove to the oldies.