Let’s cut right to the chase-Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.  2 is an excellent film, a vast improvement over the original in every way and one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best offerings yet.

It’s clear that the success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy prompted Marvel to give director/writer James Gunn even more creative control, that which allowed for a follow-up that emits genuine emotion, hilarity, and some of the best special effects seen in an MCU film to this point.  Operating as a story that doesn’t completely require that the original needed to have been seen in order to understand the plot, Vol.  2 brings back the entire cast while introducing new ones, all of whom receive their own opportunities to shine in outstanding ways.  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord is just as endearing as he was during the first go-round, as is Dave Bautista’s Drax, both of whom have plenty of moments to effortlessly produce comic relief along with a large dose of the feels.  Speaking of that, Michael Rooker returns as Yondu, in a far meatier role that allows him to hold his own against people like Pratt & Bautista while delivering one of the film’s best performances.  Zoe Saldana’s Gamora gets a nice sister story arc with Karen Gillan’s Nebula, the latter of whom absolutely manages to outshine the former, while Bradley Cooper again returns to voice Rocket which especially works when the film places him in an unlikely partnership with Rooker’s Yondu.  New characters Mantis and Kraglin are handled beautifully by Pom Klementieff and Sean Gunn, respectively, with both actors seemingly taking a lesson from the rest of the cast on how to easily inhabit a role while providing said roles with enough individuality so as to stand out from the pack, and you’d better believe that Baby Groot nearly steals the show in just about every scene he’s in-anyone who says they don’t want a toy Groot after seeing this film is lying, plain and simple.  Finally, Kurt Russell shines as a compelling character in Ego and a great performance overall.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.  2 succeeds on every level, with an unexpectedly touching story fueled by Tyler Bates’ score and some well-handled cameos I fully expect to see fleshed out in future installments.  With this film, Marvel has again given us another brilliant film, a sequel that far surpasses the original and can now exist comfortably alongside similar masterpieces as Iron Man, The Avengers and both Captain America sequels.  Though the MCU may stumble at times (Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, Doctor Strange), it’s clear that they not only know how to treat certain properties well, but elevate them past the level of the comic book film into the realm of Quality Cinema.  This is a fine movie, and I can’t wait to see it again.