Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ★★★★

So, I guess we’re not supposed to like this movie as much as the first? Ok. This second helping of Guardians of the Galaxy serves up everything that fans loved about the first movie — often doubling down on the original’s best traits. As far as returning MCU filmmakers are concerned, James Gunn gives the strongest second showing yet. While Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon seemed burdened down by the weight of their first movies, Gunn gleefully takes his gang of Guardians in new directions and to new dimensions. This is one of the good ones.

At this point in the MCU (and thanks in large part to James Gunn’s natural tendencies), a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 can basically play hopscotch with conventions — bouncing from familiar to uncharted territory on a whim and at a moment’s notice. Truth be told, Vol. 2 is one of the most idiosyncratic (while still retaining a high level of competence) comic book movies to grace the big screen. It looks different, it feels fresh, and I don’t think it can be criticized for following the pack.

Almost everything that worked in the first movie is clicked up a notch or two in the second. The visuals are more stunning than ever, the characters and performances are not want for charisma, the humor is constant and some of the funniest in the MCU, the action is inventive and clever (not a whole lot of punching going on here) … just about everything works wonders.

There are two main ways the first and second movie diverge. Unlike the first, the villain of Vol. 2 is tremendously intriguing. There is depth and narrative development purpose behind the character’s motivations (an often rare occurrence for the MCU). Usually (in any action movie), the action and drama of a story exist as nearly autonomous halves. But in Vol. 2, the action within the story is a direct reaction to the interpersonal drama that is taking place within the story. I cannot stress how much I appreciate the effort James Gunn put into giving each character significant dramatic material without just spreading it on top of an action plot-line.

On the flip side, the first movie has a much more iconic soundtrack, utilized with pinpoint accuracy. Not as much in the Vol. 2 soundtrack (we’re talking songs here, not score) particularly stands out. Granted, Vol. 2 is brand new, so the soundtrack could (and probably will) grow increasingly more endearing. But first impressions put the Vol. 1 soundtrack comfortably ahead of Vol. 2.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not surprise in the same way as the first movie, but it does everything a sequel should — it takes the characters to new places, it doesn’t retread the first film’s beats, it gets bigger in emotional resonance (not just in scope), and it progresses the overall story in a compelling way while unabashedly putting the audience’s enjoyment first. And the cherry on top? Baby Groot is the cutest character in comic book movie history.

“It’s not ripe.” 8.5/10

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