Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a film about fathers, of all types. Crappy dads, reluctant dads, adoptive dads, and narcissistic deadbeat dads, they come in all shapes and sizes. With dads comes daddy issues, and the Guardians of the Galaxy are all plagued by them. While Vol. 2 technically ups the stakes from the first film (they’re saving the entire galaxy instead of just one planet in this one), its core conflicts feel more personal and intimate. You’ll come for the laughs, but Vol. 2 will have you crying by its end.

Vol. 2 picks up a few months after the first film. Groot’s (Vin Diesel) still a baby, Peter’s (Chris Pratt) still a man-child, Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) still a grumpy old raccoon (just don’t call him that), Drax (Dave Bautista) is still learning how to properly use metaphors, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) remains the sole voice of reason. They’re a group of a-holes for sure, but they’re a-holes together. While they may not always get along, they’re the only family each of them has. That is until Peter’s deadbeat dad Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, out of the blue, wanting to atone for never being a part of Peter’s life. Warm, accepting, and eager to please, Ego seems like the father that Peter always hoped for. He’s also a god. Lots of emotional confrontations follow.

In terms of plot details, that’s about all I’ll give away. You’ll probably know where the plot’s going well before it actually gets there, but that doesn’t matter. The galaxy-saving stuff serves more as a backdrop to explore the emotional baggage to of the Guardians. The differences in structure between Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 is quite comparable to the differences between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Where the first film follows the traditional, focused three-act hero’s journey of your typical blockbuster, Vol. 2 plays it more fast and loose, splitting up our heroes. Vol. 2 is less concerned with supervillain fighting and more figuring out what makes these characters tick.

This works in the film’s favor wholeheartedly. Hands down, the single best aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy was its ensemble of lovable weirdos. Writer/director James Gunn doubles down on this aspect, pairing everyone off in an unexpected way and forging surprising bonds. Gunn proves himself to be a master of ensemble balancing, He manages to give every Guardian a fully realized personal arc, as well as deepening their familial relationships. This even applies to the ancillary characters from the first film, like Yondu and Nebula. There’s hardly any plot advancement in the entirety of the second act. All its focus is given to character development. Gunn makes sure everyone gets their due.

Of course, these guys are nothing without the actors portraying them. Luckily, everyone brings their best. Chris Pratt was born to play Gunn’s version of Star-Lord. He nails the immature, wisecracking, kind-hearted nature of a kid who, most of all, just wants to be loved. Bradley Cooper provides a grumpier, more emotionally raw performance in this iteration of Rocket. Dave Bautista’s deadpan tenure as Drax is one of the film’s comedic highlights due to refreshing honesty with his emotions. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how adorable Baby Groot was, but that goes unsaid. However, the surprising standout character and performance of Vol. 2 is Michael Rooker’s Yondu. He receives the most fully formed arc in the entire film. In a movie chock-full of scene stealers, Rooker manages to steal the most. I never thought I’d walk away from a Guardians of the Galaxy movie saying Yondu was my favorite character, but here we are.

It’s not all emotional revelations, however. This is a Marvel movie, which means there’s also an abundance of comedy and action. While Vol. 2 is just as hilarious as its predecessor, some of the comedy doesn’t feel as natural. A few gags go on for too long and some quips feel somewhat forced, but overall, the humor is just as strong as the first film. While the second act is a slower and character-driven affair, the third is a completely different story. Vol. 2‘s bombastic climax ranks alongside the MCU’s best thanks to a villain who improves on the usual Marvel fare and a fittingly bonkers final showdown.

Gunn’s vision for the cosmic side of the Marvel universe remains delightfully inventive. Vol. 2‘s galaxy is colorful, weird, and full of character. This may be Marvel’s best-looking film to date. Just like the first iteration, Vol. 2 possesses an amazing collection of pop songs from the 60s and 70s. While Awesome Mix Vol. 2 lacks the emotional resonance and relevancy of the first film, the music manages to fit each scene perfectly, even more so than Vol. 1.

Like its characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a tad messy and endearingly imperfect. It’s earnest and achingly full of heart, covering the entire emotional spectrum. It’s a film that loves its characters just as much as we audience members do. Now, the inevitable question that will be asked: “Is it better than the first Guardians of the Galaxy?” But honestly, does it matter? It’s damn fine film on its own. Vol. 2 gives us a deeper, more introspective look at the a-holes we fell in love with in the first film. While it may lack the freshness and uniqueness of the original, Vol. 2 delivers more of what we loved, and then some. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may not be a perfect film, it is a perfect sequel.

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