Shared from the 2017-05-06 Chattanooga eEdition

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‘Guardians Vol. 2’ is good but trying way too hard

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DISNEY-MARVEL VIA AP

Chris Pratt, left, and Dave Bautista appear in a scene from “Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2.”

It’s not always commented on, but success in Hollywood can be as much of a danger to creativity as failure. Latest case in point? “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

When the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” debuted in 2014, its anarchic B-picture soul made it such a scruffy, raffish interloper that a worried Marvel made sure to put “from the studio that brought you ‘The Avengers’” at the bottom of its advertising.

What a difference three years and $773 million at the international box office make. Yes, writer-director James Gunn and almost the entire cast have returned. But the magic, though not entirely gone, has taken a serious hit, done in by a combination of prosperity and anxiety.

Gunn and company wouldn’t be human if they didn’t feel pressure to repeat that bonanza, and to do that they have understandably attempted to double down on the attitudes that made the first film a success.

As a result of trying too hard to maintain the original’s carefree attitude, what was fresh now seems institutionalized, what was off the wall now feels carved in stone, and the film’s trademark irreverence has become dogma. When the unruly Rocket asks wearily, “So, we’re saving the galaxy again?” the raccoon is more truthful than he knows.

All this is frustrating because “Guardians Vol. 2” is not without its successful elements, including the return of star Chris Pratt as feckless adventurer Peter Quill, the Earth-born leader of this unruly mercenary bunch.

Just as good is one of the newcomers to the franchise, Kurt Russell, who hits exactly the right note of bemused assurance as Ego the Living Planet (his friends call him Ego), a powerful celestial being who turns out to be Peter’s long-lost father. More on that later.

And, as it was in the first film, the new “Guardians” soundtrack, known officially as “Awesome Mixtape #2,” is a treat. When splendid songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son” are blended with the action, we forget how dispiriting and topheavy the film’s music-less moments can be.

Though the Guardians don’t do anything they didn’t do in the first film, “Vol. 2’s” insistence on hitting everything twice as hard soon becomes wearing. If the gang argued with each other last time around, the constant bickering here is beyond tiresome, as is the wearing way Quill and Gamora refuse to speak about “the unspoken thing between us.” What was engaging in the first film quickly overstays its welcome.

An expendable Sylvester Stallone makes a cameo as the leader of a band of interstellar troublemakers. Their extended antics are nowhere near as amusing as the film imagines.

The success of the first film has led to more money for special-effects-laden action sequences, which is not always a good thing. These space battles are expertly done, but there are too many of them.

The movie starts off strong with a genial 1980 prologue of Russell’s Ego and Quill’s future mother, Meredith (Laura Haddock), driving through the Missouri countryside in a Ford Cobra convertible as “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl” blasts on the car radio.

Cut to decades later, and the Quill-led Guardians are engaged in a battle with a space monster at the behest of a snooty gold-painted race called the Sovereign, ruled in she-who-must-be-obeyed fashion by the stuck-up Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki.)

Though there are enough reminders of the first “Guardians” to make the sequel a fun experience, it’s ended up less like itself and more like a standard Marvel production. A third film is already being promoted, and going back to the roots might be a good idea.

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