Believing that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 could be an improvement over its predecessor, which happens to remain the most charming movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is tough. Somehow, writer-director James Gunn has done what could be deemed the impossible. The further galactic adventures of the Guardians—Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), colorfully literal alien Drax (Dave Bautista), cybernetically enhanced raccoon Rocket (v. Bradley Cooper) and a baby version of the humanoid tree known as Groot (v. Vin Diesel)—is the year’s funniest blockbuster to double down with equal amounts of heart and humanity, despite the distinct lack of many human characters. It also features Kurt Russell and his luscious locks, a casting decision that immediately raises every movie’s grade by one letter (at least).
If you do not recall, the first movie left the identity of Quill’s father a mystery, the solution to which acts as the crux of Vol. 2. Russell stars as Ego, an apparently godlike Celestial who has his own living planet. As if that revelation were not enough, the Guardians also must account for another of Rocket’s mischievous misdeeds. He has angered an entire race of gold-skinned aliens known as the Sovereign, and their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) has led their entire fleet to Ego’s planet seeking vengeance. It’s a good thing blue-skinned Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker, in what is legitimately his greatest, most emotionally resonant performance since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) is on hand to support the Guardians this time around.
Vol. 2 has a legitimate claim on best entry in the MCU. Gunn shows even more preternatural confidence than he did in constructing the world of the original. He opens the movie with a Baby Groot dance number to ELO—who else could do that, and so sublimely pull it off? The actors are even more comfortable in their multihued and hairy skins. Still, in a crew of scene-stealing pirates, Bautista continues to shine; one wonders what the former wrestler could do in a different role.
This rollicking frolic through the galaxy wears its heart on its sleeve. Family ties are woven, severed and rewoven throughout. It is not just Quill’s daddy issues, either; Gamora and Karen Gillan’s Nebula get in some nice sisterly bonding during the fisticuffs. I haven’t even gotten to the promising addition of Sylvester Stallone to this brilliant corner of the star-filled Marvel Universe.
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