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Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

What are the two biggest, most consistent weaknesses of the Marvel movie franchises? Well, they have a lot of trouble with direct sequels -- the sole exception being Captain America: Winter Soldier (why, oh why did I never review that movie?!). They also have a lot of trouble with villains -- the sole exception probably being Loki. I'd also throw in a third weakness, which would be the over-reliance on McGuffins to carry the plot.

Well, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 actually manages to avoid all three of those Marvel pitfalls!

Vol. 2 gets around the sequel slump by slowing things down a bit so that it can be a more character-driven story. For the majority of the film, the stakes are set pretty low and personal, and each character gets a chance to be an actual character rather than just an action hero. The main plot revolves around Starlord connecting with his long-lost father, only to discover (almost too late) that said father is actually a supervillain, and that he didn't realize that he had another father figure right there beside him the whole time. That's a great setup. But I almost feel like Starlord and the rest of the Guardians crew feel more like the B-Story here, because this movie feels like it's more about Yondu than about Peter Quill, Gemorah, or any of the main cast. But that might be partly because the entire cast gets such a balanced amount of screen time, and no one character or plot thread dominates the others.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 - Starlord and dad
This movie operates on a smaller scale, with a more personal conflict -- at least initially.

Despite the frequent cuts and the presence of almost half a dozen individual plot threads, the movie is remarkably tightly-themed. Virtually every plot thread in the film revolves around family. Quill meets his father. Gemorah finally gets to understand her sister. Rocket is dealing with raising Baby Groot and confronts his own inability to stop being an asshole long enough to let anybody actually like him. Drax is being repeatedly reminded of the loss of his own family. And Yondu is dealing with the feeling that he's a failure in the eyes of anybody who he ever might have considered "family".

This family-centered core of the movie then manages to help resolve the second major issue with Marvel movies. Vol 2 actually has a pretty interesting and mysterious villain. Admittedly, he flips the switch from "pretending to be a friend" to "complete supervillain" rather suddenly, and Peter seems a bit too willing to go along with it. I would have preferred there to be a bit more time dedicated to building up Peter's temptation, and to slowly revealing Quill Sr.'s sinister nature. But then again, we all saw it coming all along, so I guess there was no point in dragging out the reveal, and it only would have taken screen time away from everyone else.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 - Yondu and Rocket murder Reavers
I kind of had a hard time rooting for Yondu during his mass murder spree.

But there was some excess baggage to cut out. Why are the Sovereign in this movie? Well, I know why. They're present to set up a sequel hook -- though not a very good one. The Sovereign weren't necessary to set the main plot in motion. Quill Sr. had been looking for Quill already, so the movie could have just started with Quill Sr. finding Quill. The Sovereign aren't the main antagonists. Any bad guy (including even Nebula) could have hired Yondu's crew to capture or assassinate the Guardians. I thought for sure that the Sovereign would come back and be a sort of deus ex machina for the heroes in the final confrontation with Quill Sr.. But that wasn't the case. They were just kind of there to slow the heroes down. So why are they in this movie?

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 - The Sovereign
The Sovereign felt very superfluous, only existing to set up a mid-credits sequel hook.

My girlfriend said she like the movie better than the first one, largely because she said it was funnier. Yeah, it was pretty funny, but I also felt like the writers were trying too hard with a lot of the jokes. I mean, come on, poop jokes? Really? The first 20 or 30 minutes of this movie is ridiculous and silly enough that it actually started to alienate me, and came close to turning me off of the rest of the movie. Fortunately, it gets better as the movie goes on. Things get a lot more serious and more interesting as the movie dives more into the characters and their personal baggage. There's even some pretty good, heady science fiction stuff infused into something that I expected to be nothing but big-budget, action movie space-fantasy. A lot of those sci-fi concepts regrettably get buried under the action and rapid pacing of the movie, but there' some compelling concepts here.

Thor: Ragnarok

So despite a shaky beginning and a completely superfluous secondary villain, this is probably the best Marvel sequel to date, except for maybe Winter Soldier. And it probably has the best primary villain except for maybe Loki. And best of all, the conflict is almost entirely personal and character-driven, rather than being based on a McGuffin chase!

And that trailer for Thor: Ragnarok looked pretty badass too.

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