DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The comic "Guardians Of The Galaxy" is part of a vast and interlocking Marvel universe of superheroes. But few expected its 2014 film adaptation would be such a big hit. Now there's a sequel called "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2," featuring the same cast, including Chris Pratt as Peter Quill. It also adds some new players, including Kurt Russell as a god who identifies himself as Peter's father. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: By the bloated standards of Marvel Comics movies, the 2014 "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was a modest affair, a goofy break from the "Dark Knights" of the soul of "Captain America" and company and way less grim than DC Comics movies, which are Wagnerian. There were five superheroes of mixed sizes, powers and temperaments. Chris Pratt's Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, was a likeable screw-up who carried a mixtape of '70s AM radio hits made by the mom he still mourned.
Rocket was a raccoon with a longshoreman's potty mouth. There was a neurotic muscleman, a sentient tree and a warrior woman who alone had sense. The B-movie vibe was an agreeable reminder of the first "Star Wars" and Joss Whedon's TV series "Firefly." "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" is back to the old Marvel bloat. It's overlong, it's repetitious and for every good joke, there are two that don't land.
Kids, fans and the "Dredd" fanboys will still love it because the studio knows how to push its audience's buttons. But everyone else should steer clear of multiplexes this weekend. After a prologue I'll tell you about later, we see the Guardians in action - Pratt's Peter, Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana's Gamora, Dave Bautista's Drax and a cute little twig that's the reincarnation of the tree Groot. They're fighting a kind of giant space squid while making wisecracks.
And director James Gunn and his designers have done a good job recreating a typical "Guardians" comic book panel. But it's still a big mess with dumb jokes. That squid stole powerful batteries belonging to a high-strung but rather attractive gold-hued race. Its Sovereign, played by Elizabeth Debicki, rubs Rocket the wrong way, so he steals some batteries too, which puts a massive armada on the Guardians' tail.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2")
CHRIS PRATT: (As Peter Quill) This is weird. We've got a Sovereign fleet approaching from the rear.
ZOE SALDANA: (As Gamora) Why would they do that?
DAVE BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Probably 'cause Rocket stole some of their batteries.
BRADLEY COOPER: (As Rocket) Dude.
BAUTISTA: (As Drax) Right. He didn't steal some of those. I don't know why they're after us. What a mystery this is.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEAPONS FIRING)
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) What were you thinking?
COOPER: (As Rocket) Dude, they were really easy to steal.
SALDANA: (As Gamora) That's your defense?
COOPER: (As Rocket) Come on, you saw how that high priestess talked down to us. Now I'm teaching her a lesson.
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) Oh, I didn't realize your motivation was altruism. It's really a shame the Sovereign have mistaken your intentions and are trying to kill us.
COOPER: (As Rocket) Exactly.
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) I was being sarcastic.
COOPER: (As Rocket) Oh, no, you're supposed to use a sarcastic voice. Now I look foolish.
SALDANA: (As Gamora) Can we put the bickering on hold until after we survive this massive space battle?
PRATT: (As Peter Quill) More incoming.
COOPER: (As Rocket) Good, I'm going to kill some guys.
EDELSTEIN: If you found that dialogue labored, what's on screen is its visual equivalent. Stuff swirls around, things get zapped and explode and it's all just fodder. There's zero suspense. Coming to the Guardians' aide is the guest star of "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2," Kurt Russell, as Ego, a god or demigod. Marvel has so many gods. In the prologue, we meet a computer-generated version of Russell's younger self, an image that haunted me over the next two hours.
That computer recreation is far more disturbing in its real-world implications than any threat to a fictional galaxy. Ego claims to be the father of Pratt's Peter Quill and to possess vast powers he wants to pass on. That gives the movie its storyline and emotional hook. Will Peter abandon his surrogate family for his supposed real father? What of his volatile adopted father, corrupt space ranger Yondu, played by Michael Rooker?
Reinforcing the idea that bad fatherhood is the galaxy's greatest destabilizer is the B plot in which Gamora and Karen Gillan, as her artificially enhanced sister, Nebula, prepare for a faceoff. Nebula has never forgiven Gamora for allowing their cruel father to pit them against each other as girls. So much adolescent angst up there in space. "Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2" has some witty flourishes. Among them, a ship like a white melon with an eyeball and a shot of little Groot pressed against a spaceship window staring with childlike wonder at a receding planet.
Actually, little Groot steals the picture, though Rooker is moving as a man swamped by melancholy over a misspent life. And Gillan makes a scary Nebula, seething but still watchful. The vibe, though, is all about marketing. It's not enough you paid for this product. You have to sit through commercials for other ones. There are four - count them - teasers during the credits.
One was Sylvester Stallone as a space ranger surrounded by actors palpably salivating for a Marvel paycheck. Watching Marvel and DC spread their tentacles through the movie galaxy is far more terrifying than any space squid.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. On the next FRESH AIR, Gabourey Sidibe. She made her acting debut in the Lee Daniels film "Precious" in 2009. She played the main character, a role that got her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Sidibe has a new memoir. Hope you can join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF HENRY BUTLER AND STEVEN BERNSTEIN'S "HENRY'S BOOGIE")
BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR'S executive producer is Danny Miller. Our senior producer today is Roberta Shorrock. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.