Guardians of the Galaxy again before heading to the theater last night to catch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -- but just couldn't manage to fit that in. So it's perhaps less-than-definitive (but probably accurate in any case) to say that in some ways, it's better than the original... while being a step down in other ways.
No significant plot details here, since I know few (in the U.S., at least) will have seen it yet. Suffice it to say that it's the story that felt weaker to me than the original movie. It's a bit disjointed, jumbling a few too many ideas together as though it were several episodes of a television show (and a half-hour one at that) stitched together. The majority of the film also splits off the Guardians into separate groups, depriving us of seeing them work (and joke) together.
That said, the separation does help in giving all of the characters both things to do that matter in the narrative, and a meaningful character arc from beginning to end. No easy feat for five very different characters, and even more impressive when you consider that the same thing is done for several characters outside the core Guardians too.
Also, I do feel like this movie tried to give me what I've really been asking for out of Marvel for several movies now: a story line that doesn't instantly feel wholly derivative of one of their earlier films. Don't get me wrong, they didn't shatter the mold here. But neither can you graft another movie's plot points beat for beat onto this one, as you largely could from The Avengers to the first Guardians, or from Iron Man to Ant-Man. It's a shame then that the overall story is the weakest thing about the film. But at least the character moments work.
And so does the humor, which feels like the best thing about this movie. Compared to the first Guardians (or what I'm remembering of it, anyway) the jokes come faster and land harder. I do remember the original Guardians of the Galaxy as being quite "James Gunn-y," but perhaps the post-Deadpool world of comic book movies gave him license to be even more himself here. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments, and plenty of moments where that audience laughter kept you from hearing the next line of dialogue. And while Baby Groot will no doubt get all the attention (being the single most marketable/merchandisable thing to have happened in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe), I think that Drax actually gets all the movie's best moments.
The cast is pretty great all around, with all of the actors from the original keeping up their game. Kurt Russell is a great addition to the mix too. The one notable sore thumb in the mix is Sylvester Stallone, who is really here for just one scene in which half of his dialogue is technobabble. He clearly has no understanding of what he's saying, and it comes off charmless and wooden, as though James Gunn was just finally happy to get all the words right in Take 63 and call it a day.
Like its predecessor, I'd give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a B+. Captain America continues to be the standout franchise for me within the larger Marvel franchise, but this film was a lot of fun, and I think most Marvel fans will agree.