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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

"'Guardians 2' succeeds as small, character-driven story"

Baby Groot. A young CGI Kurt Russell. And a soundtrack that will transport your parents back to the good ole' days. What more could you ask for in a summer blockbuster?

Aside from hits like "The Dark Knight," "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" and "The Empire Strikes Back," most sequels fail to capture the ingenuity, wit or sheer awe of their predecessors. However, as Norman Vincent Peale once said, "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." In that vein, "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2" shines brightly.

The film continues the story of Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and his mangy band of criminals, warriors and assassins, who must once again save the galaxy from certain destruction. While James Gunn's first film masterfully introduced us to Marvel's cosmic realm and the quirky individuals that inhabit it, "Guardians 2" foregoes a conventional superhero narrative arc in favor of a more personal, character-driven story.

From Gamora and Nebula's disdain for their father, Thanos, to the Guardians' fluctuating relationships with one another, the story largely focuses on family. Many critics were put off by Karen Gillan's portrayal of Nebula during the more impactful, heartfelt scenes. For me, however, humanity and sincerity shone through her acting and in the small details of her damaged history with Thanos and Gamora.

The Guardians themselves, as always, exude confidence and chemistry, with much of the film's humor stemming from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

Gunn's visual direction is impeccable, characterized by vibrant colors and grand set pieces. And the soundtrack, "Awesome Mix Vol. 2," while less recognizable as the first volume, compliments the film's themes to near perfection.

"Guardians 2" isn't groundbreaking. Not all of the jokes land, the secondary villains are, at times, annoying and it does little to further the overarching narrative if the Marvel cinematic universe. Overshadowing these nitpicks, however, is a glimpse into the souls of the characters we know and love, several gut-wrenching laughs and Baby Groot.