As someone who considers the original Guardians film to be a tad overrated, the resulting hype frenzy surrounding the second instalment had me worried that I was once again going to feel like one of a rare few in the galaxy who wasn’t blown away by the intergalactic exploits of Star-Lord and co.

And that’s turned out to be somewhat true, but despite a few shortcomings¬†the return trip to the galaxy of the Guardians is an absolute riot of colour, fun and heart. Vol. 2 brings the Guardians to the fore and tells a more personal story with a stronger focus on the family dynamic that got somewhat drowned out by the events of the first film.

As a result dialogue flows better between our heroes, with the actors well settled into their respective roles this time around. Jokes land more frequently and to greater effect, and Drax (Dave Bautista) is still the runaway leader for comedic content. Yondu (Michael Rooker) returns and becomes a far more developed and central character this time around while Pom Klementieff’s Mantis is a welcome addition to the roster and her empathy abilities facilitate some of the films funniest exchanges.

The music is still very much a defining aspect of Guardians‘ success with yet more hits from the 70’s and 80’s. Though Vol. 2 leans towards some lesser known tracks this time which it uses to great effect, James Gunn says that he personally chooses all the songs used, he must have a heck of a music library. The film’s opening title sequence set to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky will no doubt go down as one of the most popular starts to any Marvel film.

Essentially Vol. 2 invests in what made the first film so successful, the sniping between characters and its odd-ball sense of humour coupled with bright CGI effects and a strong soundtrack. And all of that works well a second time around but is somewhat undermined by the fairly simple and isolated plot of the film. Vol. 2 catches up with the Guardians as they now act as heroes for hire and Rocket quickly lands the team in trouble after pilfering some of the power cells they were supposed to be protecting. On the run from their all-gold employer, the high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), our heroes are shortly rescued by Kurt Russel’s EGO who turns out to be both a living planet and Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s father.

It’s here that the Guardians divide with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax heading to EGO’s planet with Mantis while Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, though literally anyone could have done it and we’d not know the difference) team up with Yondu to combat enemy Ravagers led by Taserface (Chris Sullivan). Splitting the team is both a pro and a con, it allows for stronger individual character arcs to develop outside the group but also undermines the group family dynamic by separating them for most of the film.

Baby Groot is, of course, designed to steal the show, pushing the cuteness factor almost into overload, but just about stays on the correct side of effective rather than overdone. Rocket and Yondu actually have one of the strongest storylines, dipping into the emotional reasons behind Rocket’s aggression and prickly demeanour.

Kurt Russel puts in a good turn as the celestial super-being EGO, and his relationship with Peter is the main focus of the film. There is a threat to the galaxy but it somehow seems less urgent than previous dangers as the final act takes place on one planet with no population at the edge of the galaxy. Which results in Guardians’ second entry feeling a little… unnecessary, in a similar fashion to how Iron Man 2 feels more like Iron Man 1.5 so too does Vol. 2 feel a tad like Guardians 1.5.

Ultimately Guardians Vol. 2 is a fun and ridiculously enjoyable romp through the sillier side of Marvel’s universe, and puts heart above space spectacle. It may not be as fresh or unique as when the Guardians first appeared on the scene but it’s still a relentless treat for the senses, it looks and sounds great and is full to the brim with easter eggs and references. It may not contribute a great deal to the overall grand plan of the MCU but as a fun and colourful excursion into the hearts and minds of the galaxy’s finest oddballs it’s an absolute blast.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 receives a celestial Cinescape score of: 8/10

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