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REVIEW: 'Guardians 2' doles out goofy violence in successful sequel

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Writer/Director James Gunn sets the tone for his second entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with an opening credit sequence featuring both a brutal brawl against a tentacled space creature and Baby Groot dancing along to Electric Light Orchestra's Mr. Blue Sky .

The latter is Gunn's focus - watching the tiny version of the Vin Diesel-voiced Ent-like creature dance is adorable on so many levels - but the battle that causes Baby Groot to bust a few moves is never too far in the background. Even amid the laughs and the goofy tone Gunn has gifted his little franchise, someone somewhere is about to be or has already been murdered viciously, which somehow remains part of the joke.

This is essentially Gunn's modus operandi, as seen in films like Slither and Super , films that feature far more gore than what either Guardians of the Galaxy or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 can offer. But Disney has granted Gunn a far longer leash than it has with the other MCU movies - no other Marvel film boasts a sequence as bloody as the one involving Michael Rooker's Yondu and his whistling arrow of death - and Gunn uses that leeway to put his stamp on what a Guardians movie can be. He revels in the fighting and bloodshed, reinforcing the comic book aspects of a medium that can pushes violence as a ritual. In many comic books, a hero isn't heroic until he or she has punched out a few bad guys for fun. Gunn does this with a wink and a laugh, mocking the very conventions and mores he promotes. Much of the violence is played for humor, like the opening credit sequence and especially the aforementioned Yondu path of destruction - setting such a bloody seen to Jay and the Americans' Come a Little Bit Closer is a strange bit of funny lunacy. The bloody mayhem and wanton shootings sometimes serve as build ups to punchlines, for Chris Pratt's Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon and Dave Bautista's brutally honest Drax. Gunn and crew never miss a sliver of a chance to insert a joke, making it difficult to take things too seriously.

That backfires a bit with the conflict between warring sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), whose tragic childhood is lost in the shuffle of comedic elements. It also diminishes the quietly sad backstory for Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a being who exists solely to help the aptly named god Ego (Kurt Russell) get a decent night's rest. She's effectively a slave, and the melancholic nature of her existence is mentioned in passing. There are a lot of characters to service in the more than two hours Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has to tell its story, so the movie inevitably skips on a few beats it could have hit.

Fortunately the misses are outweighed greatly by the hits. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 keeps its comedic flow going in moments both sad and triumphant - only a Guardian could get hit in the head with debris while calmly reflecting after winning a major fight. The Guardians are the losers of the MCU, the characters who are dumped on the most by their creator and thrown into situations well beyond their capabilities. Their success is rooted in the inevitability of their failure, their need to improvise a key testament to their characters' respective resolves. Heroes like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are less interesting to watch because their challenges are large but surmountable; the Guardians are thrown against a literal god and an armada of combat droids at the same time while using outdated technology. Even though the MCU won't allow the Guardians to lose, they come the closest to possibly succumbing to the impossibilities in front of them, which is a bit thrilling for a production company that talks about a third or fourth installment before film two is released. To paraphrase Don Delillo, Marvel and D.C. Are trying to prove there's little danger left in the new. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at least tries to be a little newer than the rest of the stock, daring to open a film with a monster fight serving as a backdrop for a dancing tree. Gunn trades some depth for jokes, an exchange that ends up mostly in his favor.

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Target audience: People who continue to follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe and need to complete all the homework assignments until next year's Avengers: Infinity War .

Take the whole family? Considering there's an entire sequence where bodies are impaled in slow motion, I'd keep the really young kids at home.

Theater or Netflix? This is totally fine for a theater trip, especially if you can catch a matinee screening.

How cute is Baby Groot? Mostly all the cute. Still voiced by Vin Diesel, Baby Groot loses the strange sweetness of the adult version but gains a level of innocence that fuels the little guy's violence. He is a rather good encapsulation of the fun and frustration of a toddler, a creature that invokes chaos but gets away with much of it thanks to a hug or a slightly tender moment.

Watch this as well? You can watch the first Guardians of the Galaxy to catch up on the series, along with a fair chunk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Highlights include The Avengers , Iron Man , and Captain America: The Winter Soldier .

Reviewer's Score: 4 out of 5 stars

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