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Reputation unguarded

OUT NOW! GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 ultimately falls to sequelitis, with a kaleidoscopic miasma of special effects, but still shouldn't be dismissed.

Since 2014’s surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy was hailed as a new gold standard for superhero screen antics, writer/director James Gunn’s sequel has been one of the most eagerly awaited films on Marvel Studio’s roster. The ragtag team of interstellar misfits is back, and this time, it’s a family affair. This second adventure explores Star Lord’s (Chris Pratt) mysterious daddy issues, as well as the simmering sisterly tensions between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who have each suffered in their own ways at the hands of their father. Freud wept.

Given how out-of-left-field-entertaining the first space oddity was, it gives me no pleasure to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is not up to the mark and has well and truly fallen to sequelitis, the infamous Hollywood disease characterised by the three ‘B’s: Bigger, Bloated and not-Better. In other words, the second chapter of Marvel’s beloved space opera is more The Matrix Reloaded than The Empire Strikes Back. And the comparison doesn’t end there: like the Wachowski siblings’ ill-fated sequel, it relies on huge set pieces with a kaleidoscopic miasma of special effects and loses much of the original’s freshness.

Granted, you can’t dismiss Vol.2 outright: most of the cheekily impertinent banter works, the Rocket Racoon/Baby Groot duo (voiced respectively by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) is still a joy to watch and one surprise cameo is a laugh-out-loud treat. The snag is that none of it is put towards telling a compelling story: it starts off promisingly but the meandering, scattered script is not even redeemed by a midway twist. The absence of the first film’s co-scribe Nicole Perlman can truly be felt here.

This clumsy MCU film just deals with the burden of expectation by self-indulgently coasting on the goodwill of the first chapter, and ultimately feels dispensable both as a standalone and within the overarching mythology the studio have been masterminding meticulously for nearly a decade. And for those who were wondering: the soundtrack – gleefully curated though it may be – feels more laboured this time round and is far less memorable than Vol.1’s. And that is Vol.2 in a nutshell. DC might rightfully be the butt of all jokes with 2016’s dire Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and the godawful Suicide Squad, but after last year’s frankly lukewarm Doctor Strange and this sophomore slump, questions can legitimately be raised. Is the MCU showing signs of misplaced overconfidence? Are they starting to run out of steam? Can Marvel’s heroes ride out superhero fatigue? As it stands, that’s two yeses and a maybe.

Cinemagoers have two more Marvel stories hitting the screens this year, and both Spiderman and Thor have some avenging redeeming to do if the franchise behemoth is to continue maintaining their strike rates. And as for that closing title card which once again reads “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return”, that prospect feels a lot less tantalising than it did three years ago.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 | Directed by James Gunn (US, 2017) with Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker. Starts April 27.

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