The Guardians gang, with a few new members, proves that more can actually be less. L to R: Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Bautista)
Marvel
By Stephanie Zacharek
May 4, 2017

As modern garden-variety escapist cinema goes, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, director and writer James Gunn’s sequel to his 2014 megahit, both adapted from the Marvel comics series. But this overstuffed follow-up is also emblematic of all we’ve come to settle for in movie entertainment: it feels not so much crafted as squirted from a tube. There are enough plots here to fill a dozen galaxies. Chris Pratt returns as boyishly cute space pirate Peter Quill, leading a crew that includes Zoe Saldana’s green-skinned warrior beauty Gamora, as well as Rocket, the potty-mouthed raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper. Vol. 2 also introduces a sort-of new character, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), a twig-size offshoot of the grownup tree-person Groot, who met a noble almost-end in the last movie. (In the Guardians galaxy, goodbye is never forever.)

This time around, Quill tangles with the swaggering, mirthful god Ego, who claims to be his father. As played by Kurt Russell, Ego is the movie’s one pleasure, a radiantly self-absorbed silver fox for whom the world is one giant little blue pill. He lives on a planet of his own creation, a riotously colored landscape made of Magic Rocks and Silly Sand, or so it seems–his castle is what you’d get if Antoni Gaudí had built a Las Vegas hotel. But Russell and his wild planet can’t save this self-indulgent, hyperactive mess. At one point, Drax, a lavishly tattooed space dude played by former pro wrestler Dave Bautista, announces, “I have famously huge turds!” and laughs heartily, in case we can’t be trusted to get a poo-poo joke. This is a movie that praises viewers for being cool enough to show up and then proceeds to insult them–but only ironically, see?

–STEPHANIE ZACHAREK

This appears in the May 15, 2017 issue of TIME.

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