The trouble with the "Guardians of the Galaxy" is they're outflanked on all sides.
The Avengers are way cooler. And tougher. The Suicide Squad is a lot hipper, crazier and funnier. If I were to need a squadron of Superheroes to save the universe--or even to repair a Sunday School TV monitor, I'm not sure I'd put the fate of either the cosmos or the kiddies in the hands of '70s nostalgists who get misty-eyed over mix tapes and Dairy Queens.
Nor would I be able to evince all that confidence in a group whose techno genius calls himself "Rocket" and is a wise-cracking raccoon.
There's always a kiddie aura about the Guardians, which is especially obvious in Vol. 2 with all the variations on poo-poo jokes -- which use a semi-nasty word you wouldn't use in front of your Aunt Bea--not because it's all that dirty but because it denotes nothing but crudity on the part of the user in a way a pure obscenity wouldn't.
In the new installment, full of brightly colored CGI, they've just finished a job for a stuck-up astral princess and her snotty bunch who call themselves The Sovereigns. But because of her bad attitude and general snobbery, Rocket has stolen a bagful of her mega-power batteries anyway. He's that techno-sharp raccoon I was telling you about. His personality is about midway between scamp and well-developed jerk.
So they're all on the lam through the universe when who should save them all from the angry Sovereigns but, yes, the father of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt).
He's played by Kurt Russell, who's always fun to have around and who hereby, leads off Kurt-and-Goldie month at your friendly neighborhood megaplex. (In just a couple of weeks, Kurt's lady Goldie Hawn is going to return as a sort of super-annuated Private Benjamin as the mother of Amy Schumer in a movie merrily titled "Snatched." The old timers have been busy getting a lot of love from the nostalgic big money functionaries in current megaplex hits.)
Kurt, as the long-lost Daddy of Chris Pratt, sports the name Ego. If that doesn't tell the kiddies where the entire next half of the plot of this Superhero fantasy is going, they probably ought to remain with Saturday morning cartoons. (Adults who can't guess need an immediate course in Remedial Pulp Fiction.)
Ego, in such things, is only allowed for buffoons. And Kurt Russell doesn't play buffoons.
Nor is Pratt's Daddy issue the only Freudian monkey wrench in the works. An even more hideous Daddy than Quill's (who lost his mother to cancer while Daddy was off adventuring) belongs to Nebula, whose father kept giving her machine parts whenever she was bested by her sister (who is played by Zoe Saldana, and is therefore a woman with obviously superior derring-do.)
I thought that plot so weirdly compelling that I cared a lot more about it than I did about all the hooey that takes place on Ego's Home Planet, which had, I thought, a Trump Tower vibe to it.
The good thing about these kiddie-centered "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies is that they're supposed to be funny. Even when they try way too hard -- which is often -- they usually succeed in being jaunty, which is a pleasant way to be browbeaten if you have to be browbeaten.
You don't have to be much of a genius to figure out that this particular comic book universe is just an astral projection of a high school lunchroom cafeteria, complete with the observation that there are only two kinds of kids in the world: those who dance and those who don't.
Now we all know that Pratt and Saldana are holding off a few megatons of sexual tension. When he can't even get her to dance to Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" you know what a romantic hard case she really is.
A good little joke is that Vin Diesel's eensy weensy version of his voice is used for the littlest and youngest character. Dave Bautista plays Drax, the overly hearty musclehead.
Don't even ask about all the bad jokes at the expense of a guy who likes to call himself Taserface.
Daddy issues seem to be around corner here. Sample dialogue: "I thought you were the biggest sadist in the galaxy." "That was when Daddy was paying my bills."
After watching all that jaunty kidcom adventure stuff, I kept getting the feeling that there was a '70's after-school special locked up inside this movie and struggling mightily to get out.
"Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2"
2.5 stars (out of four)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Sylvester Stallone and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper in James Gun's newest version of some rag tag superheros in the galaxy protection business.
Details: 136 minutes, rated PG-13 for sc-fi action.