PHIL ON FILM: 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2' delivers laughs, thrills

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - As a filmmaking entity, Marvel lives up to its name when taking on the sheer wacky insanity of the more obscure under-regions of its universe, including the likes of Ant-Man and especially Guardians of the Galaxy.

It's no easy feat to bring together a group of bickering superheroes that include an animated raccoon and a tree-creature and somehow tell a coherent and emotional story. What could easily devolve into CGI slapstick manages to stick to the ribs in the two-films-and-counting franchise. See "Fantastic Four" for all the ways such a franchise can flop.

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" proves that the original outing was no fluke, and that this is a franchise built to last as long as its more star-studded cousin, "The Avengers." 

That's mainly because this is Chris Pratt's galaxy, and we're just living in it.

Pratt, as the goofy swashbuckler Star-Lord, has an uncanny ability to juggle the burdens of action hero and self-deprecating comedic life of the party with ease. He somehow turns everything he's in into Johnny Karate segments of "Parks and Rec." 

The sequel follows the template of the original -- with a groovy 70s soundtrack, ample humor and stunning visuals -- and surpasses the 2014 in many ways because it isn't bogged down with slogging through various characters' origin stories.

Director James Gunn takes a few chances, such as switching out the adult version of tree-creature Groot with an aggressively adorable baby version, but most of them pay off. The only time he gets into trouble is when things get a little too peaceful in his overly lengthy calm before the storm, in which the characters are isolated and unchallenged for no good reason.

The focus in the sequel is Star-Lord's daddy issues. Raised as an orphan after the father he never knew abandoned his mother, who died of brain cancer, he's searched out the galaxy for answers and finally finds them in the form of a mysterious, godlike figure aptly named Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego has crafted his own planet, and invites Star-Lord to join in on his fun, but Star-Lord's green-skinned sidekick/unrequited crush Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is suspicious.

Gunn does make the scattering of the heroes pay off, much in part to a compelling voice performance by Bradley Cooper as the oddball, furry Guardian Rocket. In what proves to be as challenging a task as the one Pratt faces, Cooper can use only his audio charms to sell a rapport between him and an infant, largely mute tree creature, but works with some spectacular animators to bring the effect together.

Ample cameos abound, making the film a treat for obsessive comics geeks who will appreciate small characters played by the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Seth Green, and that fan service continues in full force through the end credits, which are packed with five additional scenes that tease the future of the franchise.

Even those who have no working knowledge of the mythos can appreciate the breezy fun and kinetic thrills the movie has to offer. The sequel is an absolute smash in every meaningful way, launching the summer movie season and avoiding a Pratt-fall.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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