Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★½

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a film I've always contended is a film firmly set in the camp of "very good." It has a formulaic structure, but Gunn uses this to his advantage: he builds likeable and charming characters, compelling humor, and themes that stay consistent and are seen through in a satisfying way (even if these themes of family are serviceable and as formulaic as the plot structure). But I think everybody lost their mind over that first film because they weren't expecting a film that seemed offputting to at once feel fresh and new while also being an instantly recognizable and comfortable MacGuffin plot. It didn't stay with me because I felt it didn't go above and beyond to mean anything challenging to its audience, but it did for others it seems.

I have all this preamble to get to this key point: most people will be disappointed and/or dislike Gunn's follow up to his original. This is a shame to me, because I feel like Gunn delivers a significantly more ambitious and thoughtful story than the first, even if it is riddled with problems of its own. It's ambitions lie in how it doesn't go for bigger action, louder special effects, or any other gimmicks so many film makers run to when trying to up the ante, but rather how Gunn puts a lot of faith in his audience to sit with a smaller, more character-centric, and more thematically heavy film that aspires to be The Empire Strikes Back in many ways. But while the ambition is there, Gunn is still a relatively young filmmaker, and it really shows in his lack of restraint in the details: lines of dialogue we don't need, humor which is inserted in moments which would play better if that humor wasn't there, etc.
But still, Gunn is a good filmmaker nonetheless, and displays just how much he's grown since his first foray into blockbuster movie-making. The set design and costume design are top notch, and the way Gunn captures his environments are wonderful. It's great to see that in the franchise era, auteur talents can still rise to popularity. Gunn understands his characters, and makes a structurally, and thematically, strong outing for this band of goofballs.
Most of my issues in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) deal with the film's third act, so I will not discuss them here, but it does go on far too long with it's climax.

A solid entry in the MCU, and I prefer it to the first, even if that first is probably a better movie--objectively speaking.