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Unless you were incredibly well-versed in the obscure cosmic characters of the Marvel Universe, there was a good chance that you had no idea who the Guardians of the Galaxy were back in the day. With efforts to spotlight more corners of their world over the past ten years, Marvel Comics has brought names like Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot into the spotlight more and more. And even as recently as five years ago, casual True Believers didn’t bring the Guardians into a conversation with the likes of the Avengers, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four. You were probably more likely to hear about the Defenders or Heroes For Hire in a local comic shop over this group of misfits. But all that changed when James Gunn and Marvel Studios brought the characters to life in 2015 with a surprisingly epic summer blockbuster that had every superhero fan young and old exclaiming, “I am Groot!”. Now, this lovable group of a-holes returns to theaters this weekend with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ for some more amazing adventures throughout the cosmos.

Following their defeat of Ronan the Accuser in the first film, Star-Lord and the rest of the Milano crew find themselves providing their galaxy saving services to those in need for a small fee. After a job goes slightly askew, the team stumbles into a situation where the mystery of Peter Quill’s father begins to unravel before them. As they learn more about Peter’s true parentage, the whole group gains a new perspective about their own newfound family together.

First and foremost, ‘Vol. 2’ is most definitely just as fun as the first installment of this unexpectedly awesome franchise. From the incredible soundtrack to the borderline humor to the filmmaker’s off-beat visuals, the movie basically gives us everything we could want from a second outing with the team. An argument could even be made that Baby Groot made things as fun as he is adorable. However, the story took a backseat to character development this time around. While we became more acquainted with the phenomenal ensemble, the plot was fairly predictable and the pacing was congested at points before getting back on track. It was pretty easy to see where the movie was going early on largely thanks to the apparent themes present from the start, but just like life, it’s more about the journey than the destination.Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 Obviously poater

Despite being weaker in the story department, there are plenty of unexpected and emotional twists that shook things up enough to distract from the very few (and very minor) shortcomings of the film. For example, when the director previously mentioned in interviews that knowing the identity of Star-Lord’s father going into the movie wouldn’t ruin it for fans, it was quickly established how right he was as we learned more about Kurt Russell’s Ego and his background since no one could have anticipated what was actually coming when that information was revealed in the third act. Without really getting into specifics in general, there were more than a couple of instances that got really dark before getting covered up by delightfully irreverent humor, classic songs, or epic battles.

Another surprising development was Michael Rooker’s performance as Yondu Udonta, the arrow-wielding ally to the Guardians and leader of his own sect of the rowdy Ravagers. While most may simply know him as Merle Dixon from ‘The Walking Dead’, Rooker has worked with Gunn on a few projects like ‘Slither’ and ‘Super’. In those three examples, the actor plays some kind of badass and that’s the case in the ‘Guardians’ films as well. Although, in this highly anticipated sequel, he gets to show off more of his emotional range. At times, we find Yondu in a vulnerable state, which isn’t exactly where anyone thinks we’d go with this character who happens to be a feared space pirate with no qualms with killing people for the right price. But even the mighty Yondu has his limits and it was really fascinating to find out what they were. In a way, if Rocket Raccoon was the heart of the first movie, then Yondu certainly takes up that mantle in the second one. 

Finally, a review of this film wouldn’t be complete without a word on the practical and digital effects. Though the 3D didn’t add much, the sets, costumes, and intricate make-up seen throughout the movie were spectacular. One could imagine that audiences that saw the original ‘Star Wars’ in theaters for the first time might have felt the same way. However, George Lucas didn’t have the advancements in CGI that could de-age Kurt Russell so flawlessly in the opening scenes or create the dynamic action featuring the giant tentacled beast that Quill and company fight as Baby Groot dances around in the film’s first big battle. Hopefully, there are some in-depth special features on the home release that delve into the creation of moments like that because there are surely True Believers out there that are interested in knowing more about that process.

With all that said, someone out there is bound to be still wondering whether ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is better than ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Well, the answer to that question is that it doesn’t really matter. Even with its small flaws, Marvel Studios’ latest Phase Three film is a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster movie season. You’ll be too busy getting caught up in all the fun to even notice whether it’s better or not. In fact, you might even find yourself shedding a tear or two (and that’s not even counting the tears of joy caused by Groot being so cute). At the end of the day, let’s just say that the movie is as awesome as the mixtapes in Star-Lord’s walkman.

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2′ starring Chris Pratt, Zoë Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff, and Kurt Russell takes off on May 5, 2017.

horizontal lineDespite being a “professional writer”, Ben likes run-on sentences far too much. For more of his attempts at being funny and the occasional insightful thought, follow him on Twitter and Instagram