REVIEW (Spoiler-Free): Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 is so good it hurts

Remember 2014? Donald Trump was just a reality show buffoon with bad hair, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror loomed over Disney California Adventure, Andy Castro photographed Disneyland weekly, and no one knew who Star Lord was. Simpler times.

Marvel took the world by surprise with its August 2014 release, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and its grosses rocketed into the stratosphere while everyone fell in love (either romance or bromance, depending on your inclination) with Chris Pratt. The film captured lightning in a bottle – introducing new characters with instant success is no easy feat – and per usual, Disney wasn’t ready with the Groot merchandise everyone wanted to buy.

A sequel was a given, and with sequels come expectations. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 avoids classic sequel pitfalls. It doesn’t just reskin beats from the first movie, it actually demonstrates growth for the characters and plot while being freed from the constraints of introduction. It’s hilarious, ridiculous, fun and in a Pixarian twist, tear-jerking.

Disney Legend Kurt Russell makes his Marvel debut as Ego. Almost creepily de-aged for a flashback, Russell is his usual effortless and charming self from start to finish. Other newcomers include Pom Klementieff, who makes a solid impression as Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki as daunting golden alien Ayesha, and screen titan Sylvester Stallone as…well, you’ll see.

Pratt remains the glue that holds it all together, eliciting belly laughs almost every time he speaks. Sci-fi queens Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan get more time to work out their sisterly issues as Gamora and Nebula, bringing new depth and pain to their conflict. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel return to voicing duties for Rocket and Groot, respectively, with baby Groot stealing almost every scene he’s in. Groot is easily Diesel’s greatest acting achievement. Read into that as you will. Dave Bautista gets more time to shine as Drax, alternating between funny and wounded easily.

But the real standout this time around is Michael Rooker as Yondu, the ravager who raised Peter Quill and possesses a killer mind-controlled arrow. We get a glimpse into the fall from grace Yondu experienced for taking on Quill in the first place, and an unlikely alliance that brings about redemption. Sean Gunn impresses as Kraglin, Yondu’s right hand man, with the pair bringing an emotional core surpassing the original’s. Rooker also gets the single best line a Marvel movie that I can remember, and it’s one Disney fans will certainly appreciate.

Director/writer James Gunn packs the credits with extra scenes (yes, there are FIVE) as well as little jokes and cameos during the actual credits, so keep your eyes peeled and don’t get up and leave till it’s actually over.

And a spoiler for Disney theme park fans: the Collector’s Hollywood Land Fortress/Power Plant/Warehouse doesn’t appear in the movie. There are no pipe-related scenes or set pieces. The new Disney California Adventure attraction is entirely independent of the films.

The Guardians will be back on screens next year as part of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and James Gunn has already been tapped to write and direct the inevitable money-printing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3. These movies are a great case study in why DC Comics movies tend to be depressing suckfests and Marvel movies are such a joy. Marvel movies include joy as a main component of the process, and none are more fun than the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and this sequel more than delivers the goods.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 launches in theaters on May 5 to 21, 2017.

Author: Drew Hackney

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