I have walked into too many Marvel movies recently with high expectations, only to be disappointed by lackluster plotlines, dreary antagonists, uninspiring dialogue, or forgettable characters. When initial reactions to this movie came back very positive, I tried to not let it get me too excited as I did not want to be disappointed once again. I’m glad to say there is no expectation high enough that this movie cannot surpass.

James Gunn once again proves himself as the king of comic book movies. No other director in the MCU has achieved the delicate balance between heartfelt emotional stakes and lighthearted humor quite like he has. Right from the start this movie ropes you, and the following two and a half hours fly by. The movie expertly oscillates between keeping you on the edge of your seat and doubling over in laughter. This movie is not afraid to get dark, which is rare these days within the MCU. This is in part possibly the most hateable villain we have seen in a long time. The High Evolutionary makes you so furious and this wouldn’t be possible without an amazing performance from Chukwudi Iwuji. James Gunn has an eye for good talent, as I do not think a movie this ambitious is possible without an amazing cast.

For as popular as many roles as Chris Pratt has been in recently, Gunn lets him show how good of an actor he really is. Some of the most heart-wrenching moments of this film are brought to life by Pratt’s remarkable performance. Bradley Cooper’s voice acting is equally impressive, creating a CGI raccoon with such deep emotion that it’s hard not to shed a tear. It was a treat to see Zoe Saldana slip back to the role of 2014 Gamora, and after rewatching the first Guardians movies, her attitude and mannerisms are spot on.

True to form for the Guardians franchise, the music in this film is simply unmatched. Since leaving the theater, I have had Awesome Mix Vol. 3 on constant rotation, marveling at how expertly James Gunn pairs each song with its corresponding scene. Even upon hearing a track from the film outside of the theater, it feels like I’m experiencing the movie all over again. This music along with the original score from John Murphy never let a moment feel stale.

Not only does this film provide a perfect send-off for the beloved Guardians we have grown to adore, but it also expertly sets the stage for what’s to come. While I typically suggest catching movies in theaters to fully appreciate their stunning visuals on the largest screen possible, this time I implore you to do so simply to enjoy the soundtrack at maximum volume without disturbing your neighbors.