Growing up in the Silver Age of Marvel comics, I strongly preferred the adventures of Spider-Man, Hulk, and Daredevil to those of Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern... because the latter group had zero feels. The DC characters rarely turned inward on themselves, except to occasionally express some vague apprehension over lackluster romances or having their secret identities exposed. Meanwhile—regardless of their extraordinary abilities—the Marvel characters seemed to be just as insecure, doubtful, and in search of themselves as 12-year-old me. There was a connection established there between comic and reader—and while today's cinematic offerings from Marvel Studios are generally more action-oriented than emotionally based, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are solidly in their feelings.
The first Guardians was an origin tale, featuring five emotionally broken characters: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an Earth kid kidnapped from his dying mother by space pirates, who later grows up to give himself the ostentatious name "Star-Lord"; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned warrior princess who rebels against her adopted intergalactic dictator dad; Drax (Dave Bautista), a man-mountain bent on revenge against those who murdered his family; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically altered b-hole raccoon; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking tree who... umm, you know... is Groot. All had serious bones to pick with the people who wronged them, but eventually they overcame their hard-earned defensiveness to band together, put others first, and save the galaxy.
As Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 begins, not much has changed. Quill still mourns his dead mom and wonders about his mysterious missing dad, while failing to manage his attraction to Gamora—who's still paying for the sins of her father by locking herself in mortal combat with her cybernetically-enhanced sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Meanwhile, Rocket remains a butthole, Drax maintains his hilariously oblivious but good-intentioned nature, and Groot is now "Baby Groot," with all the goddamn adorableness the name implies. So what's the main difference between the two movies? This time, writer/director James Gunn doubles down on the feelings.
Don't get it twisted—there is still action aplenty and legitimately clever gags (usually involving the self-involvement of outer-space people). But if the first Guardians was about characters who hide their emotions, this one allows everyone's inner demons and insecurities to be exposed for the entire galaxy to see—in between fierce, frenetic battles with gold-faced supremacists and universe-destroying megalomaniacs, of course.
All in all, there's nothing really wrong here, per se. If you enjoyed the first Guardians, you'll love the second, even if the shiny veneer of newness has somewhat dulled. However, the standard problems with Marvel Studios' movies remain: They jam too many characters in, so none get the solid fleshing out they deserve, and the self-referential Marvel Easter eggs are numerous, in full effect, and, at this point, solidly annoying. So cut it out, or at least dial it back.
That being said, stack Guardians up against the dour tubs of crap put out by Warner Bros. (hello, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), and it's pretty clear my quibbles are of the smallest variety. The music is uniformly great, the jokes are whip-smart and delightful, the action scenes are exciting CG works of art, the characters are identifiable and lovable, and BABY GROOT IS (as mentioned earlier) GODDAMN ADORABLE. While the characters of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be mired in their feelings, at least they have them—and aren't afraid to show them.