Marvel Studios
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April 21, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT

As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out April 27), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW will look back at one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” This week, we revisit the messy yet poignant and weird Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Marvel Studios has a spotty track record when it comes to sequels. Sure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier remains one of Marvel’s best movies, but Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World didn’t set the bar too high, and Avengers: Age of Ultron was interesting but also weaker compared to The Avengers. So going into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn’s follow-up to his widely beloved 2014 film, there was definitely cause to be concerned about how this movie would turn out. I know I was prepared for disappointment. Thank god, that’s not what happened, and I ended up loving Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. And when I rewatched it a year later, I loved it even more.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be both bigger and smaller than the original. The battles are larger and more brightly colored and absurd than anything in the first movie, and every single character gets a subplot that reaches a conclusion by the end of the movie. At the same time, there’s an intimacy here thanks to the screenplay’s main concern with family, which gives this movie its mushy beating heart. Admittedly, this does lead to some messiness, but it’s rather endearing because the film’s heart is in the right place. Going into this rewatch, I was annoyed at having to set aside over two hours to watch it, but by I was hooked as soon as “Mr. Blue Sky” started playing. Here’s a rundown of the seven things that stood out to me (apart from the spectacular soundtrack) when I rewatched it this week.

1. That opening battle scene

I was very worried about Baby Groot going into Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I was a fan of Vin Diesel’s tree-like humanoid from the first movie but thought Baby Groot might end up being too bloody cute for its own good. However, my mind was quickly changed by the film’s exceptional opening scene, which follows Baby Groot in a mock single take as he dances to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the other Guardians fight a tentacled space monster in the background. This hilarious scene sets the playful tone of the movie and makes it clear that big battles for the universe will take a backseat to everything else.

2. The importance of family

Disney/Marvel

As I mentioned above, this movie is ultimately about family, and how dysfunctional they can be. Peter is reunited with his genocidal father Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who really only wants him in order to take over the galaxy; estranged and antagonistic sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are forced to work through their problems; and Yondu (Michael Rooker), cast out by the Ravagers because he broke the code by trafficking children, searches for a new family and finds one in the Guardians; and of course the Guardians learning how to become a family. At no point does it ever feel like the film loses sight of how it’s essentially a family comedy, especially in the last act when all of this interfamilial squabbling converges in the bombastic final battle. It’s not just a fight for the galaxy, but a father-son battle where the son has every right to kick his father’s butt because he purposefully gave his mother cancer to kill her. All of this helps elevate the movie above most Marvel films because it feels like it this movie actually has some kind of heart.

3. Ego is like most Marvel villains, but also better

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios 2017

At the end of the day, Ego is basically like most Marvel villains: he wants to conquer everything. But he’s so much better than most of them because the way he went about remaking the galaxy in his own image was just so darn odd and twisted. In case you forgot, he basically traveled the galaxy and made children with women many of different races in the hopes of creating a progeny that could help him accomplish his goal. Not only that, but he also had a gnarly cavern with the corpses of all of the children that couldn’t help him. I think the key thing here is specificity; the details of his plan make him so interesting.

4. Michael Rooker’s Yondu

Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

I didn’t care for Yondu in the first movie, but (***SPOILER ALERT***) I definitely shed a tear by the time we reached his funeral in Vol.2. Both Gunn and Rooker found the poignancy in this weirdo character, specifically in the scene when Yondu points out how he and Rocket are basically the same — they’re two people who alienate those around them because “just a little bit of love reminds how big and empty that hole inside you actually is.” Furthermore, Yondu also has the courtesy of vocalizing one of the movie’s major themes: the importance of feeling. As he explains to Peter, he uses his heart, not his head, to fly the arrow.

5. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket

Film Frame/Marvel Studios

You could argue each one of the Guardians steals the show at some point in the movie, but Rocket is the one who stuck with me the most both times I’ve seen the movie. Cooper gives such a dynamic performance as this misanthropic raccoon that hides behind humor and snark because he’s so traumatized by what was done to him. Underneath all of his bluster, however, it’s clear he cares for his teammates, especially in the final battle, and Cooper manages to convey that just with his voice alone.

6. No Infinity Stones

Vol. 2 rages against the Marvel formula in several ways. Just look at how it’s structured. Most team-up movies feature multiple escalating action set pieces before finally reaching the climactic final battle. But that’s not the case here. Instead, the entire middle section is mostly just people talking to each other, and the only thing that comes close to action in the middle is Yondu taking out the Ravagers that betrayed him, which feels more like a music video than anything else, or Gamora and Nebula’s tussle on Ego’s planet. For the most part, Vol.2 saves all of its action for its 30-minute long final battle that not only involves the Guardians fighting Ego but also the Sovereigns, and finds room for several emotional climaxes as it launches a full-scale assault on our senses. However, the thing I’m most grateful for is that there isn’t a single Infinity Stone in the entire film.

7. This shot of Ego regenerating…

Marvel

…because it reminds me of the birth of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen and the “Is It Scary” section of Michael Jackson’s Ghost music video.

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