Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Much like a classic mix tape, “Vol. 2” of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a movie that’s similar in theme to its predecessor but feels fresh and original. Director James Gunn delivered a truly remarkable adaptation in 2014, and now he offers up a sequel that’s just as good, with a hefty narrative that thankfully has so much going on, but never loses sight of its central themes of family, love, and how music is the soundtrack of our lives. With “Guardians” the group of Starlord, Gamorra, Groot, Rocket, and Drax are back committing to a difficult job for a race of aliens called the Sovereign. They’re tasked with killing a vicious monster called the Abilisk and protecting priceless batteries. In exchange, they give Gamorra her sister Nebula back, who has been held prisoner.

After Gamorra vows to bring her to prison for her crimes, Rocket runs afoul the race, stealing from the very batteries they were protecting. When the Sovereign race fails to capture them, leader Ayesha hires Yondu, who is now an exiled bounty hunter who is kicked out of the Ravagers for Child trafficking. He is sent to capture Peter Quill and his team for their crimes. When they’re stranded on a distant plan after crashing while fleeing the Sovereign, Peter and Rocket begin to feud about control over the team. Meanwhile, Peter is confronted by a mysterious man named Ego, who claims to be his long lost father. Despite the inherently impossible to adapt ideas of the more science fiction oriented concepts of the Marvel Universe, director James Gunn is able to bring them to the screen with immense originality.

You’d think realizing Ego the Living Planet would be an odd turn of events, but Gunn makes it work grounding it in as much logic as possible, while Kurt Russell’s stellar supporting turn makes the character enigmatic but entertaining. Gunn is also always true to his comedic sensibilities, unfolding an epic and action packed science fiction adventure that becomes a personal journey for the entire team. He even places greater focus on Nebula, who becomes a unique anti-hero, and manages to introduce a few new dynamic characters including Ego, played brilliantly by Kurt Russell, and Mantis. Pom Klementieff is an absolute scene stealer as the bug like heroine who has the ability to read emotions and is learning the concept as she follows the Guardians in their battles. “Vol. 2” is a sequel but never feels like the first film ended too long ago.

Director James Gunn never loses a beat, jumping right back in to the universe all over again as if we never left them, and allowing the excellent seventies soundtrack to emphasize the unique emotions and conflicts. Where Peter Quill endured building a weird but loyal family in the first film, here, he’s faced with the idea of the father figure and what they mean to his life. The meeting with Ego reveals a lot about what he’s capable of, and what powers he might yield. Most interesting though, is the concept of what is a father, which constantly keeps Peter Quill splitting loyalties between Ego, the one who helped conceive him, and Yondu, the one who raised him. Gunn also allows a spot light for the more minor characters from the first film, giving Nebula a richer complexity behind her hatred for Gamorra.

All the while Michael Rooker has a chance to charm once again as the anti-hero Yondu, who is forced to pay for his crimes, and endures a rough journey of redemption alongside unlikely allies Groot and Rocket. While “Guardians Vol. 2” is true to its roots as an action packed science fiction film with rich themes about family, Gunn also never loses sight of what makes the Guardians so entertaining. Through it all, they’re still a group of mismatched thieves and bounty hunters with an unspoken bond and love demonstrated through actions and not words. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a stellar sequel filled with surprises, laughs, and an incredible soundtrack. It’s the exact kind of follow up I was hoping for, as it expands the Marvel universe, while keeping its narrative about family simple and down to Earth.