Sequels, Part 2s, Volume twos… often get some form of curse when it comes to films in the MCU. Expectations are usually lowered and ratings aren’t as high as its first counterparts. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 faces this challenge, and writer/director James Gunn is tasked to maintain the outstanding success the first movie had. While the movie still does this in a stellar manner, it might have a few more hiccups compared to the first.

Obviously, the fog of mystery surrounding the lovable characters from the first Guardians of the Galaxy can’t be expected here. James Gunn keeps it fresh by keeping dialogues witty and adding more fun to the already-comedic dynamics of the team. Rocket still has a potty mouth and itchy hands. Drax still speaks in a tactless, direct, non-metaphoric tone. Gamora still shines as the strong and sensible female lead, while Quill glues the team together. Oh, and Groot? He’s turned into an adorable baby/toddler, and everyone’s his surrogate parents.

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For the most part, Volume 2 would feel more like a Star-Lord film if people would assume about the story based on the trailers (Ego showing up, and declaring his parentage to Peter). But James Gunn does the unexpected and actually gives everyone their own character-driven arcs in the movie. This is where we get to really know more about the whole ragtag Guardians team; not just the potty mouths and the bickering and the yelling and the humor, but also a deeper understanding of who they really are and why they act that way. Volume 2 is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster because of the narrative that makes you want to empathize with these characters. Gunn made these characters relatable to keep things as fresh as the original. And Volume 2 is structured in a way that all these separate story arcs are eventually meshed together as it reaches its final scenes.

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While the movie does its job of still captivating the audiences, albeit in a way different than the first, it falls a bit short in expositional parts of the middle third of the movie. The beginning of the film reintroduces us to the team, hired by a race new to the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (but already existing in the comics) called the Sovereign. The team’s one odd job leads them to a squabble with the Sovereign, as already introduced in numerous synopses and trailers, and also eventually prompts the introduction of Kurt Russell. All of these scenes in the first act keep audiences at the edge of their seats because it still retains the campy sci-fi action excitement the first film had. This hype mellows down once Kurt Russell does his expository arc, which (although a necessity to the plot) is the movie’s weakest point. However, Kurt Russell’s acting stood out in his version of Ego exudes a majestic aura that makes this second part memorable and interesting enough to more than just tide audiences from getting bored, but also root for the Ego character for his fatherly spiel.

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Other parts of the second act introduces us to the individual stories of Yondu, Rocket, and Groot, which successfully attempts to connect with the audience. These characters have their own personal journeys to relay to viewers that eventually blend well with the film’s overall plot. Yondu’s arc was especially handled well by Rooker’s impressive personalization of the character. Rocket’s internal struggles, first mentioned briefly in the part 1, is also explored deeply here, while Bradley Cooper impresses audience with a range of voice acting chops from different emotional spectra. It’s also the second arc where Nebula’s role picks up, coming from a somewhat sidelined role in the first third of the movie. Here we see Nebula and Gamora’s more vulnerable side. Karen Gillan takes the cake here as her dramatic dialogue with Gamora brings about a powerful yet moving sense of awe and pity for the character. Saldana also returns with an impressive display of Gamora’s level-headed and strong feminine charm. Drax has also stolen the spotlight with his good-natured tactless approach to wit and humor. For the most part, he shares that spotlight with Mantis, whose sweet, innocent charm brings back that fresh perspective and shroud of mystery from the first film back into this sequel.

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The latter third of the film returns to the more action-packed parts of the film we’ve all come to love and adore. Naturally, there’s a heavy use of CG, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. Rather than focusing the cameras on the exaggerated CG dump, Gunn keeps his focus on the characters  while they run about and fix both their internal troubles and external threats. He could have gone with the battles similar to Age of Ultron, but instead, he keeps everything tight and close to the chest, and emphasizes his objective of showing Volume 2 as a character-driven story. There’s little to be explored by this third act, but it still delivers gut-punching scenes up until the end. And what of Peter Quill? Chris Pratt’s a natural. The versatility in his acting keeps the character fresh, intriguing, and funny all throughout the movie.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does succeed in delivering a strong film similar to its first outing. The pacing will definitely feel different because of the multiple story arcs that segregate the characters into their own little niches. The character expositions do feel out of tune with the rest of the film, especially with Ego’s introduction. But all these tiny details eventually mesh together in the end to establish the concept of family and how each of the members define it. Because of that, it still comes out as an impressive, must-watch film of the season.

Don’t forget to stick around at the end for FIVE post-credits scenes! And watch out for easter eggs too!