Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

With Awesome Mixtape #2 at the ready, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Star Lord and his fellow protectors of the universe find old enemies can become new friends as they travel deep into the cosmos - and trouble - in search of Quill's beginnings in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2."

Laura's Review: B+

When the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" came around, it was a breath of fresh air, an irreverent, pop culture dose of goofy fun. Writer/director James Gunn couldn't possibly surprise us the same way the second time around, but his continuation of the adventures of his band of misfits has a lot of heart, its themes of unconventional family more well earned than Dominic Toretto's repetitive ramblings (ironically, a mini "Fate of the Furious" reunion is on hand here with Diesel voicing Baby Groot and Kurt Russell playing Quill's father, Ego). The film isn't without its problems, specifically a far less memorable soundtrack and the typical Marvel penchant for overlong climaxes (the film runs 136 minutes, including five additional scenes scattered throughout its closing credits). On the upside, several new very well cast characters add to the fun rather than cluttering up the landscape and a recent Marvel approved fan theory regarding Stan Lee's cameos receives validation. A 1980 Missouri set prologue shows us Quill's mom Meredith (Laura Haddock) singing along to Looking Glass's 'Brandy' in a 1979 Ford Cobra driven by her 'spaceman' (Russell with a CGI facelift that puts "Rogue One's" to shame). He takes her into the forest where he plants something akin to "Little Shop of Horrors's" Audrey. Thirty-four years later, the Guardians have been hired by the Sovereigns' High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," mesmerizing) to protect their valuable batteries from an intergalactic beast in exchange for their prisoner, Gamora's (Zoe Saldana) sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). But Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), bent out of shape by the golden Sovereigns' superior attitude, leaves with a bunch of those batteries in his backpack and the Sovereigns pursue Quill's Milano with a fleet of remotely controlled pod ships. After crash landing on Berhert, the Guardians watch a glowing egg-shaped ship land. Out of it steps Ego (Kurt Russell), who informs Quill that he is his father, an immortal who lives on his self-created planet with his empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff, 2013's "Old Boy," an adorably naive match for the literal Drax). Quill decides travels to dad's planet to discover his destiny along with Gamora and Drax (Dave Bautista), leaving Rocket behind with Baby Groot and the shackled Nebula to fix the Milano. Meanwhile, on Contraxia (check out that Howard the Duck cameo!), Quill's thieving Ravager foster father Yondu (Michael Rooker) is ceremoniously exiled by Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone), his head fin removed, for protecting Quill. On board his ship, Taserface (Chris Sullivan, TV's 'This Is Us') stages a successful mutiny and goes to hunt down Quill via a tracking device placed on Quill's ship. Gunn's family themed story is genuinely emotional, romantic entanglements old (Quill and Gamora) and new (Drax and Mantis) played for serious belly laughs. The opening slaying of the beast is goosed by Baby Groot's foreground antics, Rocket's defense against rampaging Ravagers a "Home Alone" style of ingenious traps. Teaming up with Yondu, Rocket hops across 700 jump gates to get to Ego when more than 50 are deemed unsafe with hilarious results. Nebula's attempt to hunt down her sister from the skies above is so relentless, she pilots the ship deep into a cave, uncovering Ego's secret along with settling old scores. But Gunn really excels in icing his cake, references to 'Cheers,' Pac-Man and "Mary Poppins" not only amusing but integral, much like the juvenile name calling that occurs throughout. Quill's destroyed Walkman gets an appropriate digital upgrade while his Earth-nostalgic dashboard curios take on profound meaning. By all means, stay until the bitter end unless you want to miss pondering the meaning of the disheveled Ayesha's birthpod and witnessing the adolescent Groot. Grade:

Robin's Review: DNS