One of the things that marked out the first outing of the Guardians of the Galaxy team way back in 2014 was its exuberant of devil-may-care fun.
Gone were the usual po-faced sentiments of most Marvel Studio outings, replaced with a giddy sense of mischievous and damn near seditious joy that gave us heaping plate full of space-based action and good-vs-evil derring-do without sinking under the weight of its own superhero earnestness.
The good news is that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has lost that sense of cheeky sense of sticking it to the comics man, treating us, pretty from the word go, with a veritable feast of comical fun.
Take the opening credits for instance.
The team – at this point in proceedings Star Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and an adorable baby Groot (voice by Vin Diesel) – have been given the task by the High Priestess of the Sovereign, a gold-skinned imperious race obsessed with their own perfection (they’re about as dour as you imagine) of defending their precious energy sources against a battery-chomping inter-dimensional monster.
So far so action-oriented you might think but as the team swings into action, mostly fruitlessly to subdue their contracted foe, Groot hits play on the sound system Rocket has rigged up and spends almost the entirety of the battle, over which the opening credits play, dance with gleeful abandon to ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”.
It’s joy-filled, comic silliness, an orgy of battle destruction playing out to Groot’s funky dance moves and a song which shows that the second movie in the series is just as committed to a kickass soundtrack as its predecessor.
Much of that you may recall stems from Peter Quill’s obsession with ’70s and ’80s retro classics, courtesy of his now-deceased mother, music which he listens to via a Walkman portable cassette player (a casualty of a later battle which as you can imagine doesn’t go down well).
It’s a promising start with music, comic adlibbing and oneliners and just jaw-droppingly impressive space landscapes all presented and accounted for, showing that writer and director James Gunn, who did so much to lay the way for the offbeat humour of films like Deadpool and Doctor Strange, is every bit as committed to delivering up the goods that made the first film such a sublimely off-the-wall delight.
With all the pleasing building blocks of instalment one well and truly accounted for, including the reappearance of Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), with whom there is some sort of rapprochement, however fractiously maintained, and Yondu (Michael Rooker) and sidekick Raglin (Sean Gunn), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sets about having some fun with the need for excessive set-up exposition done and dusted.
Unfortunately this is where the film, wonderful though it may be, falls a little flat.
The main driver of the narrative this time around is Peter’s reunification with his father Ego (Kurt Russell, in both young and older guises) who it turns out is a Celestial, a god-like being who is literally a planet, only taking the form of other beings to explore what lies out there in the galaxy.
At first Peter is thrilled to have finally met his dad and tickled to find he is half immortal but as you might expect, things go a little south from there and the team, augmented by Nebula, Yondu and Ego’s companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff), end up in the middle of the father of all family reunions.
It sounds big, exciting and candy-coloured explosive, and in a lot of ways it is replete with some fantastically, brilliantly over-the-top action sequences, but inbetween all this quip-heavy mayhem, there are a lot of very intense, earnest conversations about family and the need for connection.
It’s all very worthy and touching, and adds the emotional substance that fleshed out the galaxy-vaulting lunacy last time around, but at various times, it simply drags, the film almost grinding to a halt while all this emotional earnestness plays out.
It doesn’t sink the film by any measure but it adds too much length and unnecessary weight to the film which almost grinds to a halt on more than a few occasions.
It’s not fatal, and frankly Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is still far more rounded, crowdpleasing and put together than many of its genre mates, but, novelty factor aside, it doesn’t sparkle quite as much as its first outing.
Having said that, there is something so infectious about being around a bunch of characters who like each other as much as these guys do (and like any family go out of their way to pretend they don’t), and being blissfully drowned in a dizzying plethora of pop references from the Mix Tape songs, Mary Poppins (when you see who earns that comparison, you’ll likely laugh as manically as I did) and yes David Hasselhoff, that you can’t help but bask in the insane comic joyfulness of it all.
Granted the second time around is quite as deliciously silly but it’s a minor step back from the glories of the first film and when you thrown in about four scenes sprinkled through the final edits (not to mention some fun edits of production attributions), and Groot just being so damn adorable, you can’t help but walk out of the cinema grinning from ear to ear.
Generally sequels are major letdowns from the film that kicked everything off but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which packs an almighty emotional punch at the end (take your tissues), mostly delivers on expectations, reminding us in the process that it’s more than possible to save the galaxy not once but twice (think of the fees, Rocket!) but have a ton of fun doing it.