There’s a sequence in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” in which Baby Groot is told to perform a simple task. No matter how explicit the instructions, the tiny tree keeps messing up the job.
Funny scene. However, the joke takes a long time to set up and execute, and it doesn’t need to happen in order to advance the characters or the plot.
That’s a violation of laws in screenwriting books and superhero movie formulas. It’s exactly the kind of sequence that gets cut out at the script stage — unless you’re writer-director James Gunn, and you uncorked a mega-hit with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie.
This means “Vol. 2” is full of zany stuff that exists just to be playful or weird. “Vol. 2” isn’t as fresh or funny as the first film, but it has enough first-rate one-liners and kooky visual gags to please the faithful.
Although Groot is shrunken, the rest of the Guardians are much the same. Spaceship jockey Peter Quill (Lake Stevens High School graduate Chris Pratt), known to parts of the universe as Star-Lord, still experiences unspoken attraction with green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and still rides herd over Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Bautista).
The opening half-hour pinballs happily from one kick-ass situation to the next. A prologue set on Earth introduces a new character (Kurt Russell) and the ‘70s soft-rock tune “Brandy,” both of which will figure prominently in the story.
Then we leap ahead to a battle between the Guardians and a huge monster, their escape from the refined planet of a golden-hued queen (Elizabeth Debicki), and a breathless space dogfight.
There’s a story somewhere in this, but the fun of the movie is in the characters and their wisecracks, especially whenever the hulking Drax makes quiet observations. Five years ago I would not have predicted that the former pro wrestler Bautista would become one of my favorite comic actors, but we live in strange times.
Gunn has a zest for bizarre creatures and wild planets — he captures sights that look like they jumped off the covers of old sci-fi paperbacks. So many comic-book films miss that coolness.
The movie has almost too much to squeeze in: more plot-time for Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) and the villainous Yondu (Michael Rooker), plus new characters, including the splendid Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath. There’s also a role for Sylvester Stallone, who seems to be around in order to set up a future chapter in the saga.
No one will remember this film’s shortcomings. They will remember Baby Groot hilariously dancing, or looking sad. “He’s too adorable to kill,” says a villain when Groot is captured. You could say the same for these movies.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (3 stars)
The sequel retains the Guardians and their wisecracks, while introducing a bunch of new characters (Kurt Russell included) and ‘70s songs. If it isn’t as fresh or funny as the first film, this one is still crammed with zany stuff that zooms along — plus, it has Baby Groot, which makes all the difference. With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana.
Rating: PG-13, for violence
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds Theater, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas, Thornton Place Stadium, Woodinville, Blue Fox Drive-In, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza