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What is a mixtape? How about this: an old-school time capsule, a pop cultural soundtrack of a moment you never want to forget?

That’s what writer-director James Gunn, in his second outing at the helm of the Guardians of the Galaxy box office cruiser, has provided the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an awesome time capsule. Sometimes, the selections feel too spot-on, as when he starts right off with one-hit wonder Looking Glass’s “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” as a couple in an American muscle car races along a two-lane road in Missouri. Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) rides shotgun alongside her spacey loverman (a de-aged Kurt Russell), and that Meredith, she sure is a fine girl for this space-faring sailor. Personally, I find it hard to top the inclusion of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” when Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, whizzes across the horizon of the planet created by his father (Russell) who happens to be a Celestial being eager to connect with his long-lost son.

The mixtape such a perfect device for Gunn and Guardians Vol. 2, and it goes beyond the selection of songs. The look and feel of this marvelous movie is a marked departure from what anyone coming in would expect from a superhero flick. Instead, Gunn has fashioned a loving ode to the 1980s, complete with spaceship battles straight out of the classic Galaga arcade game, romantic riffs referencing the vibe between Sam and Diane from Cheers, and David Hasselhoff.

At its core, this installment of Guardians is about a man-child reconciling the mythic ideal of what a father should be and standing face-to-face with the real deal. Along the way, his quest to bring some sense and unity to his understanding of family and heritage spills over to the rest of the Guardians.

While the movie certainly doesn’t skimp on the epic action, what makes Vol. 2 truly awesome is Gunn’s willingness to indulge in the whimsy and wonder of the dazzling color of comic book frames, where anything can happen and we can all save the galaxy and pop culture, once or twice. (Opens wide Friday) (PG-13) Grade: A