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  • by Jeff Beck

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: A Delightfully Fun Sequel with Depth and Heart to Spare

The Guardians (and a few others) gather to save the galaxy in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"

Back in 2014, Marvel Studios delivered something rather astonishing with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Here was a film that took the standard Marvel outline, which usually just contains a thread of a plot and a hefty selection of action scenes, and took it further than usual by adding the most fascinating group of characters yet seen in this universe and an even bigger dose of humor than usual. What resulted was (and still is) the best film the MCU has delivered ever since they started churning out superhero flicks in 2008. Because of this, the sequel became hotly anticipated, putting an immense amount of pressure on writer/director James Gunn to once again deliver an amazing adventure with this rowdy collection of unlikely heroes. It’s certainly a tall order, but that didn’t stop him from giving it his all, which brings us to the latest Marvel outing, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

As this latest entry opens, we find our heroes, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Voice of Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Voice of Vin Diesel), facing off against an enormous creature that has been causing problems for the Sovereign race. Once finished, they claim their reward: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who had been caught trying to steal powerful batteries from the Sovereigns. Unfortunately, as The Guardians are departing, Rocket reveals that he helped himself to some of the batteries, causing the Sovereign fleet to come after them. In the subsequent battle, they are able to escape thanks to a little help, but end up crashing their ship on a nearby planet.

It turns out the help they received came from a being named Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Peter’s long-lost father. Ego is an incredibly powerful entity that has the ability to make things, including entire planets like the one he inhabits with an empath by the name of Mantis (Pom Klementieff). As Ego describes how he mastered this ability over the course of millions of years, it is discovered that Peter also carries the same celestial power within himself. Everything seems to be going quite well, but all is not quite as it seems when certain secrets are revealed, putting our heroes in the position of having to save the galaxy once again.

First and foremost, it’s an absolute pleasure to see these characters back together again. One of the greatest strengths of the original film was a cast of characters that had unique personalities, a special camaraderie, and a depth that made them feel more real than what we had seen before in the MCU (and this is despite the fact that most of them are aliens). It almost seems as if Gunn could have put Star-Lord and co. in any kind of crazy situation, and it would have been an absolute delight just to see them try to get out of it. However, as mentioned, Gunn gives it his all and delivers an intriguing story that delves into Peter’s past, while also doing the same for several other characters. As far as this franchise goes, character development has never been an issue, especially with the eclectic group of personalities that we’ve come to know and love.

It’s probably fair to say that the sequel is not quite as good as the original, for while the story remains engaging, it is a little simpler this time around (and yet, the film runs 16 minutes longer). It basically boils down to our heroes trying to avoid being captured, meeting up with Peter’s father, and discovering a great threat to the universe that needs to be stopped. Subsequently, it all leads up to that oh-so-familiar epic third act battle that goes on and on for what seems like a good 30 minutes. Like before, the climax is somewhat entertaining, but after a while, you do begin to wonder when it’ll come to its conclusion. As I’ve mentioned before, there isn’t really any other way a movie like this could end, and it’s not really anything to hold against the film, but surely it didn’t have to be so stretched out.

However, as far as complaints go, that’s pretty much all that’s to be found. The characters are still immensely entertaining, the cast still does a marvelous job, the special effects are once again top notch (it wouldn’t be surprising if it earned an Oscar nod like its predecessor), and the action is just as thrilling as before. Even the soundtrack is spectacular, becoming something of a character itself with great tunes like ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky,” Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Sweet’s “Fox on the Run,” and Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.”

Trying to make a sequel that was going to be as good or feel as fresh as the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a near-impossible task, but Gunn has managed to deliver a film that’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch, while also giving it depth and heart to spare (it’s quite a testament to his accomplishments that we end up caring about these characters as much as we do). This franchise continues to be the very best the MCU has to offer, and this sequel only serves to prove exactly why that is. 3.5/4 stars.

Starts tonight in theaters everywhere.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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