We’ve already had the origin story in Vol. 1, so “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” takes us further into the backstory of Peter Quill and his parents and into the meaning of family.
In the 2014 movie, the Guardians had saved the Galaxy from Ronan the Accuser. What we know is that Peter Quill was kidnapped by a group of space pirates (Ravagers) under the leadership of Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) in 1988. Yondu turned Peter into a thief, but Peter decided to do a bit of freelance work, taking the Infinity Stone. The green Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her adoptive blue sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) were adopted by Thanos. Thanos is allied with Ronan who was behind the death of Drax the Destroyer’s (Dave Bautista) family. Gamora and then Nebula were sent to kill Peter, but Gamora joins up with Peter to sell the Infinity Stone. Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters before they join up.
Important things from the last movie are that the Guardians end up on the criminal outpost Knowhere which was formed from the severed head of a Celestial, Peter could hold the Infinity Stone and is only half human, Groot sacrificed himself to save the group and must re-grow, Yondu admits that he was supposed to deliver Peter to his father and Peter opens the last present he received from his mother.
In “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” begin in Missouri circa 1980 to the tune of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl).” That 1972 song, composed by Elliot Lurie, the lead vocalist for Looking Glass (1969-1974). The song effectively sets up the whole movie. Brandy is a barmaid in some nebulous port town. She has given her heart to a sailor “who told the truth” and “was an honest man” and told her his true love was the sea.
“Brandy” was his mother’s favorite song and we see a young Kurt Russell in his post-Disney phase driving in a convertible as Ego with Peter’s mother, Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) near a Dairy Queen. In the woods behind the Dairy Queen, Ego has left some mysterious organic glowing thing as part of some grand master plan.
Thirty-four years later, the Guardians of the Galaxy (Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Baby Groot) are famous heroes for hire on the planet of the Sovereign, a race of perfectly genetically engineered golden beings. The Sovereign had precious batteries that need to be defended on a golden galactic steampunky platform from an inter-dimensional slimy tentacled Abilisk monster which plays out mostly in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) dances to the British rock group Electric Light Orchestra’s 1977 “Mr. Blue Sky.”
Appearing before the leader Ayesha, the Guardians are given payment: Gamora’s sister Nebula who will be turned in for a pricy bounty. But we learn that Rocket has stolen some of those batteries, an act that Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) characterizes as “heresy of the highest order.”
The Sovereign use thousands of golden drones to attack the Guardians’ ship, Milano, but the drones are all mysteriously wiped out by energy rays emanating from an off-white egg-shaped ship. The Milano is trashed and crash lands on a planet, followed by this mysterious egg-ship. Two figures emerge from the egg-ship, a humanoid called Ego (Russell) and his attendant, an innocent girl-like empath with antennae Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Peter accepts Ego’s invitation to visit his home and Gamora and Drax accompany him, leaving Baby Groot and Rocket to repair the Milano.
Elsewhere, Yondu is exiled from the Ravager community by his father figure, Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), because of child trafficking. Ayesha hires Yondu to find the Milano. Yondu and his space pirates survive Rocket’s booby traps, and capture Rocket and Baby Groot, but Yondu’s crew stage a mutiny led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan) and aided by Nebula. Imprisoned together, Yondu and Rocket join forces to escape with the help of the baby-minded Baby Groot (and a timely assist from Kraglin). Yondu gives us the first doubts about Ego and his motives.
On Ego’s planet, Peter learns that Ego is a Celestial, a god-like being who assumes a human guise to travel and mingle with other species. Using animated dioramas, Ego shows the story of how he met Peter’s mother and Ego casts Yondu as the bad guy, finding his son as he was hired to do, but not turning him over.
Gamora, worried about lost contact with Rocket goes off to another area, trying to find a better connection (“Can you hear me now?” memes can’t be far off), but instead finds herself targeted by her sister who has been set free by Taserface and his crew on a ship. What Gamora and Nebula find and what Mantis tells Drax change the Guardians direction.
Pop references outside of the song include a 1980s TV series and an opportunity for a popular European pop star to make a cameo. All that is fun, but while as director James Gunn gives us plenty of eye-candy action and cool creatures and jokes, Gunn the scriptwriter sometimes over-explains things (e.g. when Ego explains the significance of the song “Brandy” or even the dioramas). There will be deaths and even a funeral, but also a re-affirming of the meaning of family, formed through shared experiences (saving the galaxy being an important one).
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a better showcase for Chris Pratt than his Jurassic hero-turn. Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula provide kick-ass strong women without the skin-baring objectification. Mantis becomes another foil to play against Bautista’s plain-speaking Drax and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket gets to show his tender side. Geeks from another planet than their actual families will understand the need to find a crew and making them your family even if you don’t have to save the world or worlds or have a cool soundtrack, but a great mixtape doesn’t hurt. For those who had Sony Walkmans, you’ll be glad you saved them, but the tune playing machinery does become more timely.