Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume II (2017)
If at first you succeed, how the hell are you supposed to repeat that? You don't, probably. At least, not in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, save for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So don't go too hard on Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume II for not quite reaching the lofty heights of its predecessor, because god dammit it comes pretty close.
This is very much a Peter Quill story, and your taking to that notion will be reflected in how much you enjoy the sequel to the very much beloved 2014 Marvel film. Quill meets his father, not-so-surprisingly played by Kurt Russell. It's not a spoiler, so chill out, nerd. His god-father (lower case g, Russell notes) is an interesting dude and the under-explored themes are what you expect — listen, you know what you're in for in a Marvel film at this point.
It's a tough balance with so many characters in what should truly be an ensemble film. Guardians struggles to find the balance the rebooted Star Trek universe strives with: giving every character a moment to shine. That's not to say any character is left in the shadows, but this is Quill's story, not the story of the ensemble, and you'll never get a moment to feel otherwise; that's a departure from the first film and a bit of a shame.
Still, Quill is motivated by his friends, or family if you're of the Dom Toretto persuasion, and that keeps the film balanced. And let's be honest: the humor is still there and the pacing is so good that you don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about what it all means anyway. Even as a not-quite-as-good Guardians entry, it's still a very good MCU film. I know what you're thinking: no shit.
We get more of the Gamora-Nebula relationship that was merely hinted at in the first film, a villain that feels earned (a miracle) and some rich character moments. These are all very, very good things that come in a film that is nearly as fun as the its predecessor. The soundtrack doesn't quite deliver the same energy as the first movie, but in fairness, it had a tough act to follow. I'll forgive it.
Two films in, it feels like it's time to bring the Guardians into the fold with the rest of the Avengers. We've gotten a couple of standalone films that have featured more of Howard the Duck than Tony Stark. It's time to fix that. We've proven these guys can stand on their own: now it's time to see Star-Lord and the Hulk on the same screen. Let's go a-holes.