The Guardians -- Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) -- have been hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign People, to protect their immensely powerful and infinitely valuable batteries. The Guardians' prize is not wealth but rather Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's sister and a rogue who was captured attempting to steal the batteries. The Guardians are successful in their mission, but sly Rocket pockets some of the batteries for himself. That results in the Sovereign fleet chasing them down and, despite the Guardians' best efforts (and too much testosterone-fueled piloting one-upmanship between Peter and Rocket), forcing them down on Planet Berhert. As Yondu (Michael Rooker) tracks the Guardians under Ayesha's orders, the Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), a man who holds the answer to one of the great secrets of the universe.
Guardians Vol. 2 not only continues the story as it began in the first, it maintains the same boisterous spirit, arguably more critical to the film's success than even any narrative connections or dramatic developments. Few films are so dependent on identity as these, and Director James Gunn, who also helmed the original, never allows the movie to miss a beat, whether in its most insanely over-the-top action scenes, its comical overtones, or its most intimate character moments, all of which often intertwine into the same sequences. Though it may be overlong by a few minutes, it captures that same beat that's partly its heartbeat soundtrack and partly its lifeblood rhythm which comes from the uncannily strong connection shared amongst the cast and the characters they portray that plays right into the franchise's core strength of family. Even as secrets are revealed, new characters are introduced, as humor abounds, as explosions dot the movie's landscape, as character quirks and quips flow like running water, Gunn and company maintain a harmonious, connective balance that through all the bickering, mayhem, reveals, tunes, and trials keeps the movie feeling fresh, invigorating, and always in-tune with its strengths, what its fans want, what its characters and universe need. Few films and franchises come as harmoniously precise as this.
The movie's character-driven heart and its perfectly tuned complimentary soundtrack -- so finely integrated into the movie it's almost a surprise that Cameron Crowe's name isn't in the credits somewhere -- are matched by a barrage of awe-inspiring visuals effects, a seamless blast of intergalactic goodness where every zippy spaceship, weird alien landscape, and fantastic creature isn't just plopped in digitally, they all appear organically integrated one with the other. The film outdoes even its predecessor in terms of scope and digital perfection. There are moments when the artificiality of it all is perceptible, but not particularly bothersome. Given the diversity of the cast and all of the abundant colors and the many supporting practical elements, the viewer never feels overwhelmed even as the movie throws so much stuff onto the screen, even through the most fearsome, chaotic action scenes. Gunn makes sure every shot has a focus, serves a purpose, and that even when visual effects are centre screen, they're not centre emotionally. Truly, all of the complimentary digital bits -- even fully digital characters -- melt into the greater whole as the humour takes hold, the soundtrack takes shape, and the story comes into focus. As with everything else, even when it would seem there's some element that would overwhelm a lesser film, Guardians Vol. 2 manages to maintain harmony from start to finish. It's an incredible technical achievement but even more an incredible thematic achievement, too. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be a smidgen less of a film than its predecessor, but it's still a blast of a movie, telling a quality story supported by seamless visuals, a stellar soundtrack, perfect humour, and more goodness from its terrific ensemble cast. It's the quintessential spectacle film, a near flawless sequel, and promises more epic goodness whenever the Guardians again return to the screen.