Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the latest adventure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, chronologically it’s actually a prequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange. That’s right. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 takes place three years in the past, in 2014.
According to director James Gunn, the location of the galaxy which the titular Guardians defend is not our home galaxy, the Milky Way, but instead, the Andromeda galaxy. Even so, the events happening in this galaxy are considered to be contemporary with what is happening in the Marvel films, at least up until the first film, which was released in 2014. But, Gunn has also revealed that the new movie — Vol. 2 — only takes place “a few months after” the first movie, meaning it happens roughly in 2014. Albeit, this is light-years away from the rest of the MCU characters (like the Avengers) who live in the Milky Way galaxy. But still. The movie is a big MCU flashback.
With the exception of the first Captain America (which took place largely in the 1940s) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the first MCU movie not to take place in the same year in which it was released. In 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Vision confirms this chronology by mentioning that Tony Stark had been operating for “eight years.” In real life, the first Iron Man film was released in 2008, eight years prior to the release of Civil War.
Because almost none of the action in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. takes place on Earth, the chronology isn’t that big of a deal. Still, when Ego’s evil universe-engulfing plot briefly shows up on Earth, it’s good for the hardcore fan to remember that it’s the Earth of three years ago, not the Earth of “now.” Because the Guardians of the Galaxy will appear in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, James Gunn has clarified there will be a “time skip” for those characters. Essentially, four years will have passed since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Infinity War, since the latter takes place the year it will be released in 2018. Presumably, the Guardians will have saved the galaxy loads of times at that point.
See also: All the Retro ‘80s References in *Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2*