guardiansVol2AfixbuttonFunny, but sometimes annoying, “Vol. 2” lacks the magic of the original.  But that is not say it isn’t worth seeing.

Why do we go to the theater these days?  Is it to see an engaging dramatic acting showcase like this weekend’s limited release “The Dinner?” Or is the measure an analytical “bang for the buck” mathematical computation?  For most families looking for an event experience at the cinema, the latter consideration is controlling.  “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” qualifies as perfect event viewing even though there is some concern with the wanton disregard for the sanctity and value of life, whether human or something extraterrestrial.

The story picks up where the 2014 film left off.  Our misfit guardians have now solidified their position as capable mercenaries for hire with great, perhaps, unrealized, potential.  But the mystery of the lineage of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) remains a nagging question.  We are treated to a bit of backstory in which Quill’s mother is romanced by an alien named Ego.  This alien has assumed a human form appearing as a computer generated younger version of Kurt Russell.

Russell’s animated appearance is pretty convincing.  The problem is that we know that this is a bit of Hollywood trickery.  While audiences adjust to this new technique that was also employed capably in the last “Star Wars” installment, it is still, at this point, off-putting.  I’m sure that frame grab comparisons will be made online showing a younger Kurt Russell, from his “Escape From New York” days and probably not from his 1969 appearance in “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.”  No matter, it is darned good to see Russell in a fun film like this one, but with some reservations related to the script and character’s ultimate motivations that are cause for concern.

The story jumps forward some 35 years after Ego’s introduction, and Quill and his fellow guardians battle a monster on behalf of an elitist royal regime.  While the action is certainly fast and furious as the battle rages, the attention is focused on the new version of Groot dubbed Baby Groot (voiced repetitively by an auto-tuned Vin Diesel).  Baby Groot is the heart of this film, and every scene he’s in is funny and endearing.  It is when the action turns to Quill and his alleged father Ego that the movie loses steam.

Groot’s three word vocabulary never seems to get old.  And in “baby” form, he’s an adorable screen presence.  Surprisingly, his guardian ad litem, the irascible Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) proves to be annoying except for scenes in which he interacts with Baby Groot.  And this points out a growing problem with the zany madcap “Vol. 2” adventure: it’s exhausting stream of gibes, insults, one-liners, quips, and in-jokes get a bit monotonous.  The next installment may need to dial the frenzy back.

Another subplot worth noting involves Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his place in an intergalactic band of renegades led by Stakar Ogord (played by none-other-than Sylvester Stallone).  Yondu’s story is the most emotionally connective thing about the film.  And this is good, because the first “Guardians” shined when it included Yondu.  Unfortunately, the tone his character strikes might be a concern for younger viewers.  Needless to say, the body count is huge as he harshly deals with problems on his ship—whistling his way to power.  The whimsical even callous and craven handling of the violence on display that is set to the best bubble gum pop tunes of yesteryear is at best uneven and at worst in poor taste.

But this is a summer event film, after all, and taking it too seriously makes me the wallflower party pooper.  “Vol. 2” is fun and when it is funny certainly entertaining, but it lacks the genuine emotion that minted the first film.  Thank goodness Baby Groot is around to fight another day.

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