This past week, I saw Doctor Strange for the first time on an airplane. I thought it was a fine installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; there wasn’t anything particularly good or bad about it. It just sort of exists, but it got me to order the Marvel films from best to worst (Marvel Studios only, not anything from Fox or Sony). The original Guardians of the Galaxy either ranks as my favorite or second favorite, occasionally swapping spots with the first Iron Man. I could go on and on about how much I liked it, but why do that when I can link to my review of Guardians of the Galaxy? What a time to be alive. Long story short, while Guardians 2 may not be jockeying for the best Marvel movie of all-time, it’s still in the top tier and a great time at the theater.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes place an unspecified short time after the events of the original film. The onscreen graphic says 34 years later after a scene that takes place in 1980, putting it in 2014. It’s an odd date, setting the events of this film three years in the past; it’s important to note, however, because it puts it into perspective of which other films this movie runs parallel with the events contained in this one, and how this affects the future timelines is anybody’s guess.

The previous film gave us glimpses into the emotional strife of its characters, but didn’t dwell on them. We saw Peter Quill have to watch his mother die from cancer, Drax grapple with the death of his entire family at the hands of Ronan the Accuser, and even Rocket address the experiments that completely changed the kind of animal he was.

This film explores even deeper, as each of the characters (more or less) come face to face with the emotional scarring that has left a lasting impression on them. No one more than Peter, who finally meets the father that abandoned him and his mother, a celestial being known as Ego the Living Planet, played by Kurt Russell. Through this meeting, Quill finds out that he is, essentially, immortal, but immortality comes at a steep price.

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While Quill’s ancestry fills out the main story, the rest of the Guardians aren’t window-dressing; most of them have their own unique story arcs that are independent of Peter meeting Ego for the first time. Gamora, for example, is still dealing with her sibling rivalry with her sister Nebula, while Yondu is faced with the repercussions of a life of poor decisions. Most of them have to deal with things from their past and the film goes to emotional depths that you wouldn’t exactly expect. Sure, the first one had moments of emotion, but if you’ve got a soft spot for father-son relationships, bring some tissues.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a perfect example of where the DC films slip up, and that’s the balance between character emotions and having a good time. DC seems to think that depressive superheroes are what the public is looking for, mostly because Christopher Nolan was able to make a good trilogy while being moody. James Gunn showcases in this film that it’s not about the emotions, it’s about the characters feeling those emotions. The first film allowed us to appreciate the characters, allowing us to empathize with them in the second film.

There is a lot of emotion, as I said, but this is also one of the funniest films of the past few years and easily one of the funniest films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. James Gunn writes a fantastic script; it’s smart, heartfelt, and hilarious. By far, the funniest in this film is Drax, who admittedly does have a great deal to do in the film. However, they set up a joke in the first five minutes that doesn’t pay off until the very end that I am still laughing about. And if you didn’t figure it out from the trailers, Baby Groot is very goddamn cute.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is as good a follow up to the original film that you can ask for. It may not reach the level of the original, but you might not have a better time in the theater this year. The soundtrack picks up where the first one left off, all your favorite characters are back, and it can even make you cry a little bit. I couldn’t ask for more.

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RATING: 8 out of 10

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