Family and feelings power up the frenetic and fun Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The weight of expectation resting on the follow-up to 2014’s “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is a testament to just how spectacularly Marvel’s big gamble paid off. But like “Avengers Assemble” before it, the challenge of following up a nearly flawless success is a daunting one.

After a spot of mischievous larceny by Rocket angers their most recent client, Ayesha, High Priestess of The Sovereign People, the Guardians find themselves fleeing from the Sovereign fleet and crash-land on a nearby planet thanks to Star-Lord and Rocket’s squabbling. But their argument is interrupted by the arrival of another ship, piloted by Ego (Kurt Russell), a being who claims to be Star Lord’s father.

Much of the trailer footage is taken from the opening twenty or so minutes of the film, which gives you an idea of just how packed “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2” is. It starts off at an almost breakneck pace and the desperation to entertain, delight and amuse as much as its predecessor did is palpable. In fact, the chaotic, frenetically eager to please opening teeters on the brink of irritating before it calms itself down and begins to tell its story. Essentially, this is a textbook follow-up to an ‘assemble the team’, scattering the team once more in order to show the genuine strength of their bonds as they come back together, just through the off-beat and zanily creative lens of writer/ director James Gunn.

Retaining all the brash, confident swagger of the original, Volume 2 looks to fill in some of the backstories hinted at in the first movie and ends up providing more than we might have expected. Yes, we get a lot more information on Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill’s history but along the way, we’re treated to poignant and rewarding glimpses into the other Guardians and their families – even Yondu and the Ravagers. Given the franchise’s cosmic setting, broadening the scope of the story is a moot point so instead, Gunn goes deeper into the relationships, ultimately revealing a surprisingly poignant and emotional core to the irreverent and often superficially juvenile antics. It’s that very juxtaposition, though, that may prove grating to some of the audience because the film is Quill. It’s got his compulsion to deflect any sincere emotional moment with a joke and you’ll find it either annoying or endearing or maybe even both in equal measure, especially when it comes to some of the cameos.

The core cast is well served by the script and despite his connection to the central plot, Chris Pratt’s only-very-slightly-less-charming-this-time-round Peter Quill doesn’t dominate. Despite fears of Baby Groot being overused, it’s the goofy and blunt Drax (Dave Bautista) who almost wears out his welcome. In Ego, the Guardians have a suitably grand antagonist whose ultimate plan – and connection to both Peter and Yondu – provides the film with its emotional sucker punch as well as the galactic stakes required for the Guardians to risk everything once again.

This is the 15th movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while there have been flaws and follies, there are no signs yet of the oft-prophesied decline. In fact, what “Guardians Of The Galaxy  Vol. 2” really does is reveal the extent of Marvel’s ultimate ambition. There are cameos, Easter Eggs and groundwork being laid which would suggest that the Cosmic Marvel Cinematic Universe is not simply a tributary offshoot of main Marvel Cinematic Universe but may yet become its own, independent but parallel franchise. It would be typical of Marvel to launch a second, fully functioning cinematic universe while their rivals continue to struggle to pull together a single one. If nothing else, it’ll keep Stan Lee very busy for years to come.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2” is, much like new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff), something of an empathic mirror and if you love it, it will love you in return but if you’re minded to dislike it, it will give you a lot of ammunition to do so. For me it was a dazzling and full-blooded, if slightly too hardworking, follow-up to the original, in many ways successfully achieving the ‘more personal, not bigger’ stakes “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” reached for but fell just short of. The soundtrack’s pretty damn good too, as you’d expect. And while its five – yes, five – mid- and post-credits stingers may seem excessive and indulgent, what else would you expect from the Guardians Of The Frickin’ Galaxy?