Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★½

Film 15/23

"All any of you do is yell at each other. You're not friends."
"You're right... We're family."

15 movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally reaches its apex. Although I've largely been on the fence about this franchise, there have been several great MCU joints that I've really liked a lot. From Phase One, Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger. From Phase Two, Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. I'm sure I'll have plenty of new recommendations by the time I finish Phase Three.

But in my opinion, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a cut above all of them. It's special. From the opening minute, as the first notes of "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" kick in, you can immediately feel the difference. This isn't a cookie cutter comic book flick with interchangeable characters and a lacklustre story. This is that rare blockbuster with a heart to match its swagger.

Guardians of the Galaxy established a fractious ensemble of damaged heroes, dysfunctional but determined. Vol. 2 develops every member of the Guardians, deepening their bond even as they bicker and clash. Star-Lord is forced to realise how emotionally stunted he is, and has to continue his maturity from puerile space cowboy into a decent human being. Granted, his journey involves turning into a giant Pac-Man at one point, but that's unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

The rest of the Guardians evolve as well, sometimes in surprising ways. After a whole lot of fighting, Gamora and Nebula come to a sweet understanding. Rocket and Yondu, who I found a little two dimensional in the first film, suddenly become the most sympathetic members of the team. And while Baby Groot and Drax still mostly serve as comedic relief, they get great moments which reveal the depth of their characters: that scene where Mantis senses Drax's grief, and is instantly wracked with sobs while he sits silently, is one of the most poignant images Marvel has ever created.

There's millions of other things I could gush about. Like Kurt Russell as Ego, one of the best MCU villains. Or the gorgeous cinematography, with actual vibrant colours. And the soundtrack, which is every bit as awesome as its predecessor (two of the best needle drops involve "The Chain", and they're both too amazing for words). Plus the extended cameo by Sylvester Stallone's Ravagers team (when are they getting their own Disney+ series?), and all those post-credits stings. God, even the end credits in this have personality and style!

But all of this would be for nothing if it weren't for the Guardians themselves. Comedy and action aside, after two adventures I care more about these dumbasses than almost any other Marvel superhero. James Gunn actually got me to emotionally invest in a talking raccoon and his pet tree. So as far as I'm concerned, Vol. 3 cannot come soon enough.

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