** out of ****
Rated PG-13
(for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content)
Released:  April 21, 2017
Runtime: 136 minutes
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Debicki, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel

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It’s the latest episode of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, another overlong non-Avengers spectacle with the sole purpose to tide you over until Infinity War.

Twiddling its thumbs on impulse power, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a big, noisy, gaudy videogame of a movie. It doesn’t so much build out its own mythology as it does coast on idle while waiting to intersect with all of the others. There’s a lot going on here but it doesn’t amount to anything. More MCU repercussions are suggested in 1 of 5 end-credit bonus scenes than in the whole movie itself.

I wasn’t as enamored with Volume 1 as everyone else was (full disclosure), but it was effective where it mattered most – the makeshift-family building moments – and it was pretty funny, too. Those elements are now mostly forced, leaving GOTG2 being little more than, at its heart (and by calculation), an insanely overpriced B-movie. This is really obnoxious nonsense, the Baby Groot cute-pandering especially. Mileage will vary.

The main distraction here is that Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), finally gets to meet his father, a “small-g” god named Ego played with the iconic carefree swagger of Kurt Russell (whose mere presence makes up for a lot, and his de-aging in the cold open may be the best yet). Mix in boilerplate father/son sentiments, stir, add issues, then repeat. Yes, they even play catch.

The rest of the guardians and their relationships play out with some kind of familial or romantic dynamic, all in formulaic ways. What passes for character development here isn’t any different from the tired clichés you’ve seen countless times before, except for perhaps Drax’s unique and endearing literalism with newcomer Mantis (who’s equally charming).

Once the first act warm fuzzies wear off, the second and third get necessarily (if predictably) complicated. Sure, the energy remains high and the overall goofiness is cranked up (physics are defied to full Duck Dodgers extremes), but flat dramatic stakes and the digitized mess of chaotic space battles make for a progressively numbing experience. A lot of visual effects doesn’t equal good, just excessive.

The Guardians of the Galaxy franchise doesn’t simply want to be a part of our pop culture; it wants to be pop culture. That’s not to say it’s fueled only by references and nostalgia; it’s not, per se, outside of classic rock overkill and a certain Baywatch star. It’s that Guardians isn’t interested in being an actual movie at all; it simply exists to help fans achieve full nerdgasm.

The plot creates possible implications for the broader MCU (and for Star-Lord in particular), but when they’re resolved and eliminated by movie’s end you’re left wondering, “So…what was the point, exactly?” And then you remember: oh yeah, Disney has shareholders to please and cash to grab.

A generation from now, your kids and grandkids will want to discover and revisit Star Wars with you, again and again, and you with them – but not this (nor, I dare say, anything from the bloated MCU).

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