Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★½

COUNTDOWN TO ENDGAME #15

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy came to theaters, Marvel was taking a big risk. Being one of Marvel's less known characters, they weren't big names like most of their other superheroes. But thanks to a great marketing campaign, it was a very pleasant surprise. Using a mix of sci-fi fantasy action and comedy along with characters who played off of each other really well, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge hit. It also represented a refreshing turn in the genre in that instead of being another superhero film, we got a space opera worthy of Star Wars.

While I only liked the film on initial viewing, it grew on me after multiple viewings. With its brilliant cast of characters, great spectacle, sense of humor and one of the best soundtracks ever put to film, Guardians of the Galaxy has proven to be among some of the most entertaining blockbusters I have ever seen. So I was very excited to see the characters again in Vol. 2.

While the first film gave us the forming of the group, Vol. 2 would have to build up on what it established. However, because of how much a turning point it was for the genre, no doubt it had a lot to live up to. There was a chance the the movie could have been more of the same and be a retread of the original. At best it would improve on the first film, at worst another Iron Man 2 where it cared more about riding the success of its predecessor. However, James Gunn takes everything that we loved about the original film and expands upon the characters in different ways.

Taking place sometime after the events of the first film, the Guardians of the Galaxy, led by Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) have become renowned heroes. Their most recent mission was a success, but Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals from the Sovereign race, which leads to them being chased down by them. They are saved by the Celestial Ego (Kurt Russell), who turns out to be Quill's father. Taking them to a planet of his own creation, Quill seeks to bond with Ego, but his friends grow suspicious of him. Meanwhile, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) comes into conflict with her estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Yondu (Michael Rooker) has been hired by the Sovereigns to capture them.

The actors are in very good form. Chris Pratt is still awesome as the wise-cracking Star-Lord while also giving off a lot more pathos as he discovers more about his lineage. Zoe Saldana as Gamora makes for a very badass character and she shares great chemistry with Pratt. Rocket is always fun to watch and his dynamics with Baby Groot makes them a great duo. Dave Bautista is still really good as Drax. Yondu has a much bigger role to play and he actually adds a surprising amount of soul to the film, especially by the end. Nebula is also given more to do instead of just being Ronan's lackey.

As for the newcomers, they are also in fine form. Pom Klementieff as Mantis makes for a very good addition and her interactions with Drax are both sweet and funny, with the former playing off of her sweet but naive nature. Kurt Russell, was very good as Ego, whose character is more than meets the eye and plays an important part in Star-Lord's arc and the themes of this film. Several members from the original Guardians of the Galaxy in the 1960s also make an appearance, with Sylvester Stallone being among the cast.

Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 is a lot of fun. It provides all the entertainment value of the previous film. The action sequences are really good like the fight with the alien at the beginning, the escape from the Sovereigns and the antics of Rocket and Yondu. The effects are very good and a step above the first. Rocket and Groot (who is now a baby and very adorable), are integrated very well with the real-life characters. The amount of world-building is very impressive with all the species and planets that are introduced. The work put into the space battles is very good, too.

The comedy in this film is very funny and most of the jokes actually land unlike a lot of the forced humor from the other MCU films. From Star-Lord's one-liners, the banter between Rocket and Yondu, Drax's literal sense of humor and interactions with Mantis to Baby Groot's shenanigans, Vol. 2 delivers a lot of laughs. It's really sad that many comedies these days can't seem to replicate this.

The soundtrack is as lively as ever and the songs are put to great use in their individual scenes. Watching Baby Groot dancing away to "Mr. Blue Sky" was a hilarious distraction to the battle happening in the background. "Southern Nights" is used as Rocket messes around with Yondu's men. "Come A Little Bit Closer" makes one scene with Yondu and Rocket very memorable. "Wham Bam" made for a great piece when the Sovereigns come in firing.

But one thing that surprises the most is the amount of heart in this film, which is something that most of the MCU films seem to be lacking in. For a movie that is an action comedy, it is a lot more than that. While the first film was simplistic, Vol. 2 is about family. The guardians are not just a group of friends, they are a family.

While this theme has been done to death in the Fast and Furious franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy takes it a step further. What this film shows us is that family isn't always defined by blood, but by what we make it. Star-Lord comes to see what a father really means, the sister-relationship between Gamora and Nebula, Rocket coming to terms with his position among the others and Drax opening up about his tragic past. Some might think the film is bashing us over the head with the idea of family considering how many times it's brought up, but it was nice to see a Marvel film with some soul to it.

If you were to ask me, I would say that Vol. 2 was superior to its predecessor. Much like what Spider-Man 2 was to the first Spider-Man, Vol. 2 took what we liked about Vol. 1 and added a meaningful story with themes that we can live by. While a good argument could be made against that, I would say that the amount of depth put into Vol. 2 put's it a step above it. I'm very much looking forward to Vol. 3, especially with James Gunn being back in the director's chair, even after all the drama that happened.

RATING: B+

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