Grade: A-/A
Entire family: Age 8 and older?
2017, 136 min., Color
Sci-fi action-adventure
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content
Marvel Studios
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

It’s rare when a sequel matches the original for sheer energy and brilliance, but James Gunn has done it again, writing and directing a follow-up that’s every bit as good as the first Guardians of the Galaxy he wrote and directed. The dialogue is just as crisp, the visual look of the film and CGI effects are just as eye-popping, and the characters’ personalities may shine even more brightly in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, since they no longer labor under the yoke of an origin story.

This time it’s all about family, or rather, the family this group has become and the family some are still searching for. If you’ll recall, the original Guardians ended with Groot making the ultimate sacrifice but being saved as a tiny start to a new tree. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 takes full advantage of the reborn little guy’s cuteness—Baby Groot is like a more innocent, bark-covered version of Bart Simpson—and his character is a fun flipside to the acerbic raccoon Rocket (and by the way, you’ll never convince me that the name isn’t an allusion to The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon”).

When we meet them, the Guardians of the Galaxy are renowned keepers of peace. The group is composed of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who was abducted from Earth as a child by aliens and raised by Yondu (Michael Rooker), the leader of a bunch of thieves and pirates who call themselves the Ravagers. In the sequel, Yondu’s character is explored in more depth, and so is Peter’s. When the Guardians make an emergency landing on another planet they run into a being named Ego (Kurt Russell), who says he’s Peter’s father. While Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) stay behind to fix the spacecraft, Peter goes to Ego’s home planet with the former assassin and now-Guardian Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the large, crude, and very funny dude Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

In a way, there’s nothing more to the plot than sci-fi fans haven’t already seen in the old Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or Lost in Space TV episodes: they visit a planet, discover all is not as it first seemed, and somehow escape or resolve the situation. And yet, in Gunn’s hands, this simple and frequently used formula expands so naturally and effortlessly that it holds our attention for 136 minutes—a run-time that’s long by today’s standards.

Really, that familiar plot structure is the only thing that may gently tug this film down a half grade. Otherwise, it’s an A, as fun of a ride as anything you’d experience at a Disney theme park—and I’d be surprised if Disney didn’t run with the idea and create a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction similar to Star Tours.

There’s more playfulness in the banter between the characters this outing, and more warmth as well. Heck, there’s more playfulness everywhere, as Sly Stallone seems to enjoy himself as a Ravager honcho as much as the main cast, and David Hasselhoff turns up courtesy of a shape-shifter in a cameo that makes you laugh as much as Stan Lee’s. Meanwhile, the special and visual effects are as out-of-this-world as it gets, a mind-blowing sensory experience that works like any good theme park ride. You don’t want it to end. This film is rated PG-13, but the humorous tone and the obvious sci-fi fantasy violence makes it passable for family members younger than that.

Our family liked Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 better than the original, and it’s easily one of the most fun popcorn movie blockbusters we’ve watched together this past year. Included in the Blu-ray combo pack are a “tons of bonus” features, with the fun continuing via gag reels, deleted scenes, and a David Hasselhoff ‘70s intergalactic disco party. Yes, there’s a making-of feature and a full commentary by Gunn, but it’s the fun and funny bonus features that seem most in the spirit of the film. Guardians Vol. 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that turns out to be a very good thing for everyone watching.

Language:  No f-words but two hands full of milder obscenities like “shit”
Sex:  Nothing here except talk of a penis and conception
Violence:  Plenty of spectacular sci-fi violence and death, though nothing bloody or gory; the biggest “ewwww” comes from seeing a severed toe (not a toe being severed)
Adult situations:  One scene shows characters drinking and smoking and partying
Takeaway:  If he doesn’t burn out, James Gunn is going to become one of the most important directors in the Marvel Universe