Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is the comic book movie we had no idea could exist, until it lands in front of our eyes.

We’ve been taught over time that to feel connected to comic book movies and their characters, they have to be Shakespearean in their plot and character motivations. Otherwise, they are just so much cotton candy silliness, to be enjoyed and forgotten within hours.

Who knew it was possible to make a movie that stubbornly maintains a consistent tone, has an emotional authenticity, is unabashedly sentimental, intentionally embraces cheesy 80s B-movie sensibility, and stays true to the characters, all at once? GOTG shepherd and writer/director James Gunn, that’s who.

More than once, I’d hear a line, or watch a short sequence, laugh or shake my head and ask “is this for real?”. In this case, that’s a good thing.

Is it silly? Absolutely. Are there still the prerequisite explosions?  You bet. It also moves the characters we’ve come to love forward, adds twists and elements to the larger mythology of the GOTG world, and in the tradition of comic book movie sequels, is bigger, louder, and more outrageous than the first film. Did I mention it has heart? Like, full-on, warm-fuzzy, mansniffle-inducing heart?

The Guardians are still up to their tricks of keeping the universe safe from destruction, seemingly on a daily basis, and often for-hire.  They’re still shooting dangerous aliens, running from angry clients, and getting thrown in cells by interests both bad and good. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is introduced to his dad, Ego, (Kurt Russell) after Ego saves the Guardians from being annihilated, and makes a dramatic entrance. Any further explanation of the plot will spoil some of the fun and craziness that ensue.  There are daddy issues explored, through both the interaction between Peter and Ego, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  There’s no denying that the found-family aspect of the Guardians relationship with each other resonates to any number of folks out there who felt like outsiders until they found their tribe. Friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness also play into the plot, with expanded roles for Yondu (Michael Rooker), who raised Peter after he was abducted from Earth, and Kraglin (Sean Gunn), one of Yondu’s faithful Ravager lieutenants. Allowing under appreciated, underutilized character actors Rooker and Gunn to shine is a smart move that only enhances the entertainment. The addition of Pom Klementieff as the empathic character Mantis is good, although it offers one irritating running joke that demeans her looks, and does little to teach younger viewers how to interact with the opposite sex.  Look for some great cameos that reinforce the 80’s aesthetic.

All the elements Gunn has pulled together work seamlessly to drag even the most reticent viewers into cheering towards a positive outcome for the lead characters in their experiences.  And can we talk music for a moment? Awesome mixtape two is even more epic than number one.  In part, that’s because the budget for the songs is much bigger in this second film, but anyone paying attention can tell the director puts enormous thought into which tunes are perfectly appropriate. In fact, we might ask which came first? The song or the scene?  Whether you get a permanent imprint in your brain of Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Baby Groot (as cute or even cuter than you can imagine) marching a slo-mo, serenaded by Fleetwood Mac and George Harrison, or blowing alien guts out to E.L.O, you’ll never hear these songs in the same way again. For sure, the way one Cat Stevens song is used, it will rip your heart out.

Listen.  Either you dig what Guardians Vol. 2 is selling, or you don’t.  If you do, it’s cheap at twice the price.  If you didn’t even get why everyone went bonkers for the last one, you’ll just think this movie is a bigger, noisier version.  It isn’t.  True, It’s no wheel reinvention.  Still, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is a comic book movie that celebrates sentimentality, shows its emotions on its sleeve, and reminds us we can both have fun, and feel something at a blockbuster movie.

4 out of 5 stars