Release Date(s)2017 (August 22, 2017)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios (Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B-
Just two months after coming together (as seen in the first film, reviewed here), the Guardians of the Galaxy – Peter Quill aka “Star-Lord”, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, and Baby Groot (played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel, respectively) – successfully defend the Sovereign homeworld from an alien menace only to be subsequently attacked by them when it’s revealed that Rocket has stolen Sovereign property out of spite. Crashing on yet another alien world, the Guardians are rescued by a mysterious and god-like being named Ego (Kurt Russell), who proves to be Peter’s biological father. Peter, Gamora, and Drax leave with Ego to discover Peter’s heritage, while the others (including by Gamora’s sister, Nebula) are left behind to repair the ship. But they’re soon attacked by the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who have not only been hired by the Sovereign to track the Guardians down, but are looking for a little payback against Peter, who they believe betrayed them. Soon enough, these two storylines converge and all hell breaks loose… not to mention explosions, matter-splatter, and plenty of laughs.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is, at its heart, a story about the relationship between fathers and sons, and the importance of family – the family you inherit by birth and the one you choose for yourself over time. It’s also funny, good spirited, off the wall, and outlandish in every possible way, but self-aware enough that it never takes itself too seriously, except in its moments of genuine emotion. The simple fact is, superheroes and aliens with magical powers make for pretty over-the-top movie fare. But director James Gunn knows this well, and so he has fun with the genre and the source material while also honoring its spirit. He makes it all fun, and invites the viewer along to share in that feeling.
The cast here is – to a person – nearly perfect. This isn’t material that requires Shakespearean talent; rather the actors simply need to make their characters sympathetic and relatable and they do this well indeed. All the leads stand out, and there are many good cameos too, but special mention needs to be given to Michael Rooker, who really delivers a surprisingly affecting performance. The art direction is exquisite (with nods to classic Roger Dean album covers and pulp sci-fi alike), the retro-futuristic production design is lavish and memorable, and, of course, the film’s iconic soundtrack wraps it all up with a perfect blend of ironic contrasts, folksy emphasis, and nostalgic feels. All you need to do is watch the film’s opening credit sequence, in which Baby Groot dances gleefully to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians battle an alien creature in a knock-down, drag-out, lasers-blazing, tentacles-flying smackdown behind him, to know that this movie is working on a whole other level than your typical B-movie blockbuster.
Guardians Vol. 2 was filmed digitally using the Red Weapon 8K camera via the Redcode RAW codec. The film was finished to a 2K Digital Intermediate that, according to Gunn, combines downsampled footage captured in resolutions up to full native 8K. That source was given an HDR-10 color grade and is presented here on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray – Disney’s first release on the format – at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. A couple of notes on the image: First, while the film was released theatrically with some scenes presented in the IMAX 1.90:1 aspect ratio, the presentation on 4K Ultra HD maintains 2.39:1 throughout. Presumably, this decision was made with Gunn’s input. (It may be that the changing IMAX ratios will be found on the Blu-ray 3D version of the film, which is a Best Buy-exclusive.) Also, while Gunn has stated that the theatrical Dolby Vision presentation is his favorite, the 4K disc includes HDR-10 high dynamic range only (Dolby Vision is available at home only on the VUDU 4K digital version, and it’s really nearly impossible to compare compressed streaming 4K with Dolby Vision to full bandwidth 4K on disc with HDR-10). We’ve spoken to Disney technical sources directly about this and learned that they’re still testing and evaluating the use of Dolby Vision on 4K UHD discs, and it simply wasn’t ready in time to be included on this title. In any case, I can’t imagine anyone seeing this 4K image with HDR-10 and not being thrilled by it. This is an exceptional presentation, easily reference quality. Contrast is near to perfect, with deep blacks and bold highlights, all incredibly detailed. The color palette here is simply extraordinary – big, stunningly vibrant, and richly accurate at all times. Guardians Vol. 2 is pure 4K eye candy. It’s right up there with Fox’s The Revenant in terms of serving as exceptional demo material for this format.
Audio-wise, the 4K disc includes a fine 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos object-based (this is how it’s listed on the menu, presumably their way of saying TrueHD compatible). The soundstage is big, wide, and full, with incredible staging. The surround movement and panning is highly active and smooth, dialogue is wonderfully clear, and the music is blended into the mix perfectly. The height channels aren’t used to dazzle in and of themselves, but rather simply smooth out the overhead portion of the sound environment, proving a complete sense of immersion in the space. The LFE reinforces the low end of the soundstage beautifully, with firm bass. I don’t think this mix is quite as impressive as the Atmos mix on Max Mad: Fury Road, but it’s right up there. It’s certainly reference quality. You also get English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Quebec French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus in English, Spanish, French, German, and Japanese. Optional subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, Quebec French, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, Cantonese, and Mandarin Chinese.
As for bonus content, the 4K disc is movie-only. However, the package also includes a regular Blu-ray Disc (region-coded for A, B, and C) that offers the film in 1080p HD with a terrific feature-length commentary by Gunn (possibly it was omitted from the 4K to allow the video the highest bandwidth possible). He offers a ton of great insights into the story and production, keeps things moving along nicely, and knows exactly what he wants to say. I have to say, I dig this guy; Gunn is a damn fine director. You also get the following video features (all in HD):
- Bonus Round: The Making of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 documentary (in 3 parts – 37:39 in all – includes In the Director’s Chair with James Gunn – 8:36, Reunion Tour: The Music of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – 7:37, Living Planets and Talking Trees: The Visual Effects of Vol. 2 – 10:44, Showtime: The Cast of Vol. 2 – 10:41)
- “Guardians Inferno” Music Video (3:35)
- Gag Reel (3:41)
- 4 Deleted Scenes (5:04 in all – includes Adolescent Groot: Extended, Memorial to the War on Xandar, Kraglin and Quill Talk Tunes, and Mantis and Drax Feel the Sadness: Extended)
The Bonus Round documentary is shorter than you’d like, but it’s actually still quite good and manages to feel longer than its 37 minutes – in a good way. The “Guardians Inferno” video is the real highlight of this material, however. It’s one of those rare and silly gems that actually manages to exceed expectations, David Hasselhoff and all (or should I say, Zardu Hasselfrau?). Just check it out, it’s quite fun. The Blu-ray also includes a trailer for Thor: Ragnarok. It would have been nice for Disney to have included Blu-ray 3D in this package, but again that’s a Best Buy-exclusive. The package adds a fold-out poster for the video (a nice touch) and a Digital Copy code (for HD digital, not 4K, per Disney reps).
I’ve made no secret recently about the fact that I’m fatigued by the relentless barrage of blockbuster superhero films of late, but this is a rare exception. Disney and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is good hearted, never loses sight of its goal, and never forgets to have fun along the way. It’s a hoot. The film shouldn’t be missed and the 4K disc deserves a place on the shelf of every home theater enthusiast. Highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt