The jokes and the jams are all there, but a surprising splash of emotion is what makes "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" an even better space ride than the first one.
"Vol 1's" 2014 release established a group of rebels who barely got along well enough to work as a team, dramatized to the beat of a hit pop music soundtrack.
This time, in "Vol 2," there are more classic tunes guiding you through a surprising sentimental journey. If you liked the first "Guardians" adventure, you already know you're going to laugh hard at this movie. But did you think you'd get a little teary-eyed?
The most well-known tidbit we already knew coming into a viewing is that team leader/lead actor Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finally will find the father (Kurt Russell stars as Star-Lord's celestial genetic supplier, Ego, a living planet) he never knew. That plot point, predictably, takes over most of the movie.
This movie could have been a father/son space opera. But the other Guardians' own issues don't get drowned out.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) must contend with Nebula (Karen Gillian), fellow daughter of Avengers baddie Thanos. Nebula would drop a meteor on her sister to take away the pain caused by Gamora always being Thanos' favorite daughter.
Drax (Dave Bautista) is emotionless as always, but his new friendship with Ego's helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an alien who can feel the emotions of others when she touches them, reveals Drax isn't over the loss of his family.
Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) once again competes with Star-Lord for the most laughs but also is dealing with the loneliness of being the only one of his kind.
The only Guardian not going through a case of the feels is Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), mainly because he's too cute and lovable to be stressed out.
"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2" is Marvel Studios at its absolute best. The humor. The fun. The superhero action. There's even a surprisingly dark turn in tone just when you think the bad guys were getting too predictable.
Director James Gunn and Marvel Studios deserve credit for making Ego the living planet work. Those familiar with the Guardians comic book adventures know that Ego is not Star-Lord's father in the comics. When it was announced that the Guardians movies wouldn't follow that template, it could have been a recipe for fanboy gripes. At the end of this movie, most Marvel fans will realize the right decision was made.
Michael Rooker's return as Yondu, the blue, Southern twang-spitting Ravager, is full of surprises. He's got a stronger bond to the Guardians of the Galaxy then maybe his tough exterior is willing to admit, and he has to face the music and explain to Star-Lord why he kept him away from his father for so long. And yes, his lethal, single arrow that responds to his every command when he whistles is back as well.
The Guardians soon will get their chance to shine on Marvel Studios biggest stage as they appear in "Avengers: Infinity War," serving as the bridge to connect the Avengers to the looming threat of Thanos.
That upcoming film could serve as a passing of the torch if key Avengers such as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have reached the end of their cinematic Avengers contractual obligations.
If so, Marvel Studios still has everything it needs for an ongoing superhero team franchise.
Charismatic and funny leading man/Iron Man? Star-Lord.
Lethal leading lady/Black Widow? Gamora.
Green muscle/Hulk? Drax.