“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

I am Groot… I am Groot…  I am impressed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It’s the first MCU sequel done right since “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

After completing another successful mission, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) meet the enigmatic Ego (Kurt Russell). He helps the group and reveals himself to be Peter’s dad, shocking the group.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) return to settle their scores, Peter and Gamora must deal with their feelings, Rocket Raccoon comes to terms with who he is, and Baby Groot dances adorably.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” maintains its predecessor’s energy, colorful effects, kinetic action sequences, and killer soundtrack. It takes the humor and character moments up a few notches, resulting in a surprisingly hilarious and emotional sequel. If “Vol. 1” is “A New Hope,” then “Vol. 2” is “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Without getting too much into the plot, the Guardians split into two groups where alliances form, betrayals occur, and revelations are revealed. Quill spends a portion of the movie torn between family and his destiny; it’s bittersweet and sometimes heartbreaking.

“Vol. 2” is fun, though! Don’t let my description fool you. The standout sequences are a delightful opening credits sequence, a space ship battle that’s an obvious nod to the arcade gaming era, and any scene involving Yondu (Rooker kills it).

The cast is once again great with their chemistry and comedic timing; they’re even better in their dramatic moments. Kurt Russell’s performance is a little too exposition-heavy, but his charm and charisma make it acceptable.

I could have done without Sylvester Stallone as Stakar Ogord. He literally has two minutes of screen time, angrily delivers exposition about Yondu, and leaves until the end. For a hyped character, I expected more for Sly to do.

The MCU has a bad history with sequels, but “Vol. 2” proves you don’t have to one-up all elements for a sequel; it’s okay to slow down and expand on the characters’ back story. You don’t see that in a superhero film often, which is admirable.

Grade: A-

“The Belko Experiment”

My worst day at work didn’t involve being locked in my office and forced to kill my coworkers. “The Belko Experiment” depicts this nightmarish scenario with little-to-no impact.

Belko is a non-profit with a vague description in the middle of Columbia. One day, all of the branch’s outsourced American employees are locked in their office and given instructions from their intercom to kill or be killed. Why? Well, we don’t exactly know (or find out).

Written by James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), “The Belko Experiment” has potential of being a sharply funny horror satire. Leave it to a hack director like Greg McLean of “The Darkness” (my pick for 2016’s worst film) to take a great premise nowhere.

Your list of characters includes the COO with military background (Tony Goldwyn), two bromantic maintenance workers (Michael Rooker and David Dastmalchian), the office creep (John C McGinley), and two lovers reminiscent of Jim and Pam Halpert (John Gallagher Jr. and Adria Arjona). McLean and Gunn have every opportunity to take these characters into insightful and satirical turns, but rely on violence as their shock source.

“The Belko Experiment” is violent in hardcore fashion and I wouldn’t expect less from McLean. Though after the fifth head explosion and third mass shooting, the violence becomes tiresome and meaningless. Even a particular tape roller kill is underwhelming. And of course, McLean loves violence against women, showing men once again sadistically stalking and killing their female coworkers (Ebert must be rolling in his grave over this).

The game is part of an experiment that isn’t fully explained, even when the big revelation occurs. All we get is a, “We learned a lot about humanity here.” What did they learn? Well, we sadly have to wait for a sequel to find out. The ending is a forced sequel setup that has me thinking the filmmakers didn’t even fully develop their own premise.

James Gunn explained he backed out of directing because he wasn’t in the mood to direct anything too violent. If he had stayed on, maybe “The Belko Experiment” would have had the satirical edge, some more innovation, and no sexist undertones. Maybe he’ll stay on for the unnecessary sequel.

Grade: D+