The Galaxy's most dysfunctional surrogate family return in an explosion of colour, laughs and banging tunes - three years (in Hollywood time) after saving it from the vengeful megalomaniac Ronan The Accuser. This time, the Guardians have to contend with a new adversary in the form of The Sovereign (a genetically engineered super species), and Starlord discovers more than he bargained for about his true heritage. As with most families, its complicated, especially when an enigmatic stranger called Ego (Kurt Russell) appears claiming to be Peter's long lost absent father.
Volume 2 picks up where the original Guardians of The Galaxy left off - with a fantastically fun opening sequence as our heroes prepare to battle a giant intergalactic creature set to the sound of ELO's Mr. Blue Sky. It's a bravura set piece that brilliantly combines the key Guardians elements of action and humour to Cheshire Cat grinning effect, with Drax The Destroyer (an on form Dave Bautista) getting the lion's share of the belly laughs. It also immediately showcases the adorable cuteness of Baby Groot (who thankfully doesn't get annoying quickly or outstay his welcome).
The first film specialised in tomfoolery, with an irreverent quirkiness that permeated the entire narrative as our motley bunch of characters are thrown together for the first time. With the dynamics firmly established, Vol. 2 retains those traits whilst also adopting a surprisingly deeper and altogether more serious tone. Almost everybody has issues that need to be addressed in one way or another - whether its the aforementioned paternal concerns of Starlord that relate to Ego (and also Michael Rooker's Yondu), or the intense sibling rivalry that has simmered between Gamora and Nebula. If Guardians of The Galaxy is Marvel's equivalent of Star Wars, then Vol. 2 has a distinct Empire-ish vibe about it.
Elsewhere, James Gunn does it again with the movie's soundtrack. Whilst it fails to hit the heights of Vol. 1's playlist - which was nigh on perfection and seamlessly punctuated every scene - there are some notable highlights. In addition to the aforementioned Mr. Blue Sky, the inclusion of George Harrison, Cat Stevens, and in particular the use of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, is inspired. The visual effects are also as impressive as you'd expect. If you thought the de-aging of Michael Douglas in Antman and Robert Downey Jnr. in Civil War was good, then wait until you get a load of Kurt Russell in Vol. 2. It's come such a long way since a ropey looking young Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy. The rendering of Baby Groot is also a technical marvel (so to speak), with an astounding level of detail that'll make you believe a CGI plant could be real (his facial expressions are brilliant). Same goes for a talking Racoon.
The sequel is not without flaws - whereas part one flowed effortlessly with near perfect pacing, Vol. 2 (like a difficult second album perhaps) suffers from a lull during the second act that caused my attention to wander slightly, but is redeemed by standout sequences involving Rocket Racoon, Baby Groot and Yondu. The Sovereign, lead by the elegant Ayesha (the statuesque Elizabeth Debicki), are also a little bland and lightweight as far as fearsome foes go if truth be told. And whilst the finale does go a bit CGI crazy (after the inventiveness that preceded it), something that is an affliction on most contemporary blockbusters, it doesn't hinder the film as much as it might have.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 marks another successful entry in Marvel's cinematic multi-verse (or whatever they're calling it these days). It continues and expands upon the sheer pleasure factor of the original whilst delving deeper into the psyches of (most of) the characters. Everyone also gets their moment to shine - faces new and old - and there are some interesting cameo appearances too. As unexpected as the shift to a more serious tone is the heart - even more so than in the finale of Vol. 1 - that imbues the film's denouement. As a complete compilation, it probably doesn't quite surpass the original (although that could change on repeat listening...erm, I mean viewing). However, as with any awesome mix tape, you're going to find more hits than misses.