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4.8Overall Score

This review contains minor spoilers for the film.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is the first of the Marvel Studios’ trio of blockbusters for 2017. A direct sequel to Writer/Director James Gunn’s breakout hit, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” sees all our favorite heroes return with the addition of Peter Quil’s (Chris Pratt) father, Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). After narrowly escaping an easily avoidable conflict with the Sovereign, lead by the cold and assertive Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians meet Ego, an extremely powerful celestial who claims to be Quil’s father.

Overall the film is a character-driven, easter-egg paradise with some amazing visuals.
“Vol. 2” leans on all of the strengths of its predecessor while maintaining a refreshing sense of originality. After examining successful sequels of the same genre, such as “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Gunn was able to formulate the space opera in a sure-fire way which would allow the characters to grow. And grow they did.

This film leans heavily on character development, nearly to the point of sacrificing plot. Although the story is generic in it’s most basic explanation (long-lost ally turns out not to be who we expected), it is the amount of character growth we witness that puts this film on the same league as the original. Over the couple months since their last on-screen adventure, the Guardians have changed. Starlord has filled the shoes of the leadership position, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has lowered her defenses, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is more open to feeling emotion, Drax (Dave Bautista) has expanded his sense of humor, and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is…a baby.

No character has more of an impact than Michael Rooker’s Yondu. Being a long time friend of Gunn, Rooker is allowed the most dynamic arc in the film. From the rough, sarcastic Revenger we saw in the first film we now see a beaten-down, guilty father who wished he could re-claim his glory. Not to mention Yondu’s naïve quote has taken over the internet with his proud declaration “I’m Marry Poppins y’all!”

The legendary Kurt Russel fits in perfectly to the role of Ego. Seeing the hero of the ’80s in the shoes of a living planet makes you want to trust him so badly. Eventually Ego lives up to his namesake and becomes the narcissistic, psychotic villain, all without falling into the infamous Marvel antagonist curse (see our “Doctor Strange” review).

In-between the hard laughs and the stunning, and I mean STUNNING, visual effects, “Vol. 2 provides a very grounded theme of family. The Guardians have grown to become their own dysfunctional family, but the individual relationships are highlighted throughout the film. Gamora and Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) sisterhood is expanded upon in a manner that makes you sympathize with Nebula’s killer antics toward her adopted sister. Rocket’s feeling of being an outsider is both justified and put to rest by Yondu’s unveiling of his past. And most importantly Starlord’s understanding of what a father is eventually leads him to discover that he has the opportunity to fill that paternal/leadership role for his new family.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a strong comedy-action with a deep familial undertone. As Gunn describes it, it is an “indie film” disguised as a “spectacle film” and this reviewer wouldn’t have it any other way. “Vol. 2” is in theaters now, and you’ll be seeing the team again in “Avengers: Infinity War” (May 4, 2018) and in “Guardians of the Galaxy Part 3” (TBA).

Written by Rummel Medina.