I finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 this week, and I was blown away. It's rare that a movie sequel is just as good as the first one; it's rare that a sequel can pull that kind of thing off in a way that grows the universe without leaving the huge threads hanging (I'm looking at you, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest). Here are 5 things that Guardians got completely, epically right.
1. have characters that do stuff, and then give a reason.
Gamora and Nebula have an interesting relationship, to say the least. Not only is it complicated, it is full of agency: they fight, they attack, they bicker. As far as sibling rivalries go, it's one of the more interesting ones currently portrayed. What makes the development in Guardians 2 so compelling and effective is that we already know what Gamora and Nebula do. We already get their relationship, and then we find out how it came to be. The exposition was handled brilliantly, particularly as Nebula, the underdog, gets to do almost all of the talking. As a bonus, the exposition also opened the way for character development: having all the cards on the table meant that Gamora couldn't leave things as they were.
2. Go hard with what the fans want.
We all love Baby Groot. Nobody can deny that. The tiny bit he has in the first Guardians is one of the most golden moments of the film. Instead of having Baby Groot appear in the first ten minutes, or even first half, of the movie, we get Baby Groot THE WHOLE TIME. That's something that a less ambitious writer wouldn't have tried for. Instead of the character being limited to fan service, Baby Groot actually serves a purpose and functions as a character in a very different capacity from Groot. Of course, it takes commitment to the idea to make something like that work, which brings me to the third thing:
3. Commit to the world of the story.
From bringing in a Zune as the newest and latest earth music technology, to Gamora's "I don't know Cheers!" to Yondu's "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" Guardians 2 leans into the quirks of the world it created with the first film (think: "THE MELODY IS PLEASANT!"). When writing a sequel or extended story, use the rules to your comic advantage, rather than shying away from different references or making the world more bland than it needs to be. Most stories have some space for a cultural mix-up or lost-in-translation moment. In space, it's pretty easy. In realistic stories, there's still room for stumbles and fun misunderstandings. Not all misunderstandings need to be sad.
4. Change the scale of the conflict, and that doesn't always mean "ramp it up."
Now, because the Guardians of the Galaxy guard... the galaxy... there's not a ton of room as far as the supposed "scale." The Galaxy needs to be at risk. However, this time, the audience was small. Only ten or so people really know what they did and how they saved the galaxy (the people on planets with expansions only knew that the bubbles stopped). This was Peter Quill's journey of self-discovery, and even though the level of risk was similar, the payoff was much smaller: Yondu got his reputation back in death, and the Sovereigns are still mad.
5. love your characters' characters.
You have an angry raccoon? Roll with it. A blue guy with attitude problems? Roll with it. A character with great expressions and a limited vocabulary? Roll with it. Your characters know who they are and where they are going. Loving them doesn't mean protecting them; it means listening and going for whatever wild ride they're going for.