For a movie with a lot of action, a living tree, a weapon-wielding raccoon and a character that is also a planet, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a surprisingly emotional movie about family.
Oh, it's still packed with a lot of great humor, ridiculous sci-fi scenarios and tons of references to '80s pop culture, but amidst are touching moments about fathers, sisters, lovers and friends.
At the start of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, we briefly saw a young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, when he's an adult who calls himself Star-Lord) at his mother's death bed. She compared Peter to his father, who he's never known, and says "he was an angel, composed out of pure light." It has little effect at the time, but this sequel focuses primarily on the Peter finally meeting his dad (Kurt Russell).
There's other stuff going on too, of course. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) manages to offend an entire race of people who consider themselves to be genetically superior to other life in the universe, which is never a good spot to put your friends in. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) grapples with the love/hate relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) that's far more hate than love. And Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)? Groot is a baby, learning about the world all over again after nearly dying in the Guardians' last adventure.
Vol. 2 doesn't take long to get moving, and once it starts, it just goes. There isn't a lot in the way of downtime and there aren't any moments of filler. Even the bigger picture piece-moving of Marvel Cinematic Universe elements that will help lead up to 2018's Avengers: Infinity War fits snugly into the rest of the film and doesn't feel in the least bit shoehorned in. Since the Guardians are still a massive distance away from any events on Earth, these movies stand alone even easier than other recent Marvel offerings.
The sense of style, already a highlight of the first movie, has been cranked up for Vol. 2. The film's biggest set pieces are more than just flashy, they're clever. Some of the best moments in the big fight scenes happen when the camera is deliberately focusing on something else, allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks and make the battle seem even more epic than anything you're seeing on-screen. These moments are all about the characters rather than impressive CGI (not that the movie is lacking in the visuals department), which is where Guardians of the Galaxy really shines.
As in the first volume, one of the biggest assets of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is its sense of humor. Marvel's superhero films have always been smart about sprinkling levity into even its more serious storylines, but Guardians tends to put the jokes front and center. Some of these are a bit crude and childish (if you're a parent, you should know that there are multiple drawn out jokes about genitals), and many lean heavily on pop culture references and nostalgia, but even the most basic one-liners are more likely to elicit laughter than they are to fall flat. The delivery from the cast plays a big part in this, but the tone of the movie as a whole is exactly what it needs to be.
To be fair, none of this is as novel as it was the first time around. The first Guardians of the Galaxy came out at a perfect time when the world was growing increasingly weary of over-dramatic, "dark" superhero movies, and Guardians' ability to simply have fun was a breath of fresh air. Even if we've been here before, though, it turns out there's still plenty of room for comic book adaptations that refuse to take themselves too seriously.
The movie's sense of fun occasionally comes at the expense of logic (a weird thing to say about a movie considering its characters and subject matter, I know), when the writers and director clearly said, "Why not? This will be a blast!" rather than focus on believably, but that's OK. The entire movie hinges on people -- from studio execs at Disney to the members of the audience -- saying, "Why not?" And if you're willing to ask that question, then you're willing to have a good time rocking out in space.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (B+)
PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content). 136 minutes. In wide release.