It takes a village to raise Baby Groot.
There are worse things that you could call a trigger-happy/tech savvy ill-tempered talking raccoon than “raccoon.” “Trash panda,” for instance. “Triangle-headed dog.”
Sly Stallone doesn’t do alien makeup, because he’s Sly Stallone.
Stan Lee isn’t done doing Marvel Movie cameos after all.
And having a dad named “Ego” is your first tip that a father-son game-of-catch was all you missed growing up without a dad.
Just some of what we further learn about the misfit mercenaries, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” in their second movie — an eye-popping, wise-cracking body-count packing high end sequel to the big Marvel hit of a few summers back.
“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” takes a “More is better” approach to the lighthearted, zap-zinger-and kill-shot action comedy that so tickled us way back when. It’s two hours and 20 minutes, plus endless “teasers” stuffed into the closing credits, and purpose-built to please fans of the franchise, the genre and ’70s and ’80s pop.
“‘Brandy, by Looking Glass. One of the great songs of Planet Earth. Perhaps the greatest.”
But all this excess has its price. What flipped by as a funny, big-budget whimsy before takes on gravitas — daddy issues, intimacy issues, trust issues. The first film achieved giddy, every now and then. This one? Pro forma, by the book, funny every so often — but flat.
It takes on new actors. And its longuers let us see that star Chris Pratt has a way with one liners, and little else in his acting quiver. The story has a first-sequel creakiness, as if Marvel and James Gunn are more hell-bent on setting up the next sequels (stay through the credits) than in delivering maximum fun/maximum impact with the movie at hand.
At least, when all else fails, there’s Baby Groot — dancing to “Mister Blue Sky” as the other Guardians — Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the human, Star Lord, Peter Quill (Pratt) — endure all manner of mayhem, stopping, mid-brawl, to hand off the “baby” or otherwise see to it that he’s safe in between all the shooting, knife-fighting and swordplay.
This exceptionally cool alien race, the Sovereign, have hired our mercenaries to save some very special batteries for them from a monster. And darned if the Guardians don’t steal the batteries from the tall, haughty, golden-skinned High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki of TV’s “The Night Manager”). The reasoning?
It’s a favorite value-judgement of the Guardians. Along with disparaging remarks, from the ulfiltered lug Drax about “Earthers having ISSUES” and the rogue/con-rtist Peter’s unsuitability for mating with the otherworldy warrior Gamora.
“You just need to find a woman who is pathetic, like you.”
The Sovereign are all about remote-controlled Future War, hunting the Guardians by drone which wear video screen images of the remote pilots seeking to get their batteries and bring the Guardians to Sovereign justice.
There’s still money to be made by the space pirates, Ravagers, in taking out the Guardians. They’re led by the malevolent moron Yondu, played in blue makeup by the great Michael Rooker.
But all this chasing about is what brings the Guardians into contact with the man that impregnated Peter’s mom all those decades ago — back in 1980. The aptly-named Ego is played by a perfectly cast Kurt Russell, who had the same flippant way with a one-liner that Pratt has perfected.
Kurt, of course, is the whole package, and Pratt is never more a One-Trick-Pony than when he’s forced to raise his game in a scene with a more accomplished actor. Rooker, Russell and especially Saldana act rings around him in every shared scene.
He appears bulkier this time out, more a function of his performance than actual weight gain, giving us a lot less reckless abandon when you know all he’s doing is sitting in a partial-set cockpit “acting” a chase spaceship dogfight in front of a green screen. Pratt is wearing the weight of the franchise, literally, in every scene.
And it’s noticeable because the movie has pacing problems that through his acting into sharp relief. The slack stretches have some amusing taunting from Rocket the Raccoon, giving an ill-named captor pirate the business.
The vast collection of motley space murderers is straight out of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a death scene seems only necessary to accommodate future casting (and smacks of the first “Star Trek” film franchise).
But heck, what else is there to say about a movie that includes, and earns thrilled hooting from the fans, a cameo by comic book anti-hero Howard the Duck, featured in one of the greatest ’80s bombs of all?
Go for the exotic alienness of it all — well, save for Stallone, who has trouble getting his mouth around all these alien locales, races and surnames. The alien empath Mantis is a sexy-weird invention, with the beautiful Pom Klementieff rendered almost unrecognizable as human underneath antenna and wild, buckeye-sized eyes. Drax eats something that glows in his soup bowl, and every creature, skyline, sunset and moonrise (half a dozen moons over one planet) is just as other-worldly as you’d hope.
And franchise-film veteran Saldana, slinging a sword like it’s not her first hack-off, working out her sibling issues with the psychotic rager Nebula (Karen Gillan, no match for Saldana in the clenches), reminds us it’s Gamora’s universe and Saldana’s movie. Especially when the rest of it lurches to a stop, as “Vol. 2” does, time and again.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone
Credits: Directed by James Gunn, written by James Gunn, Dan Abnett . Marvel Studios/Disney release.
Running time: 2:19