Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★½

"If you kill me, you'll be just like everybody else!"
"What's so wrong with that?"

My personal favorite film in the entire MCU.

The GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchise is so wonderful at creating character-driven, escapist entertainment. Something about James Gunn's aesthetic just hits the right note, creating a perfect blend of strong characters, self-aware humor, campy tone, retro soundtrack, and Saturday morning cartoon fun.

However, VOL. 2 is even stronger than its predecessor; it's a story about coming to terms with your mistakes and making good on what you have. All the characters are paired together thematically: Quill and Ego figure out their father/son relationship, Gamora and Nebula come to terms with being sisters and survivors of an abusive childhood, Rocket and Yondu realize they are both self-destructive losers, and even Drax and Mantis make a unique pairing. It's amazing just how much James Gunn tackles so many heavy issues of trauma and dysfunction behind all these fun-loving characters.

Some people have criticized this film for being too slow-paced, and I can see where they're coming from. The first GUARDIANS was a more traditional action-adventure where our heroes were on a quest for a MacGuffin and the fate of the universe was at stake. Normally sequels go bigger, so it probably surprised many that VOL. 2 chooses to take a more intimate path. Our team is apart for most of the middle-act, not entirely sure what's going on. It's not until the last forty minutes or so that the villain, and thus what the story is really about, start to become clear. But once the story clicks into place, you realize just how well-structured of a screenplay this is, and how every seeming tangent in this story has a payoff with emotional resonance.

And while humor is obviously subjective, I honestly think every single gag in this film is a homerun. From the jokes about Taserface's name to Drax somehow always saying the wrong thing to Rocket always winking with the wrong eye to just how dumb all of Yondu's mutineers are to every crack about David Hasselhoff, they all land perfectly. You really get the sense that Gunn just loves these characters and can write dialog of them bantering away for hours and hours.

But then the third act goes in a surprisingly adult and heavier direction than I think most audiences were expecting. Michael Rooker is one of those character actors who's been around for years, and he really knocks it out the park here. Of all the characters in this series, I don't think anyone ever expected Yondu to be the one to get such a moving and heartfelt death that homages WRATH OF KHAN. Karen Gillan also gives a strong performance, as Nebula transforms from villain to anti-heroine, slowly becoming the better person here that she will be in ENDGAME.

My only real criticism of the film is that most of the mid- and post-credits scenes feeling like superfluous little skits. They're not bad; just tangental and I personally would have edited them out. But at the end of this day, this movie is just so funny, so endearing, so clever, and so in love with its characters and soundtrack, that it rises above its genre. I always associate "Father and Son" by Cat Stevens with this movie's ending.

Yes, this is basically a live-action cartoon. But it's one with heart and emotional weight.

"He says 'Welcome to the frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy.' Only he didn't use 'frickin'.'"

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