GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was a surprising hit for Marvel. Acclaimed by critics and viewers alike, it proved to be a financial success for the studio. The Guardians were initially viewed as something of a gamble for Marvel – as the gang were made up of lesser-known heroes, there was some anxiety as to whether they would be able to attract a significant audience. That concern turned out to be ill-founded, and it was almost inevitable that GUARDIANS would spawn a sequel.

Something of a sleeper hit, the original GUARDIANS perfectly balanced humour, action, and SF. It broke the superhero mould, largely because it wasn’t a superhero movie. Despite its Marvel tag, and the character-links to the Avengers universe, GUARDIANS was a space opera at heart. In short, VOL 2 has some pretty big boots to fill…

And it doesn’t disappoint. The story set up is pretty straightforward: post GUARDIANS, the crew are working as mercenaries. They’ve taken a job from the Sovereigns, and their reward is Nebula: the sister of Gamora, daughter of Thanos. Rocket, being Rocket, steals from the Sovereign. They don’t like this much, and a space battle ensues. The Sovereign use remote drone tech (which, of course, I loved!) and chase the Guardians through a perilous asteroid field. Things are looking bad, until a mysterious benefactor arrives to assist. This turns out to be Ego: Peter Quill’s estranged father, and also a “celestial”…

From the get-go, VOL 2 sets itself up as very different to the typical Marvel offering. The humour is immediate: we’re treated to a gyrating Baby Groot, amidst a battle against an extra-dimensional alien. The title scene basically reintroduces the Guardians, but in doing so also sets the theme for the movie.

VOL 2 doesn’t reinvent the template from the first film, and the Guardians themselves don’t get on much better: Drax’s analogy is that they are more like a family than friends, and that’s a pretty good description. The leaner plot gives the Guardians time to breathe, and VOL 2 gives a lot of screen time to Drax. He’s hilarious; perhaps even paralleling Rocket in the humour stakes. His relationship with Mantis – a new addition to the crew – is both touching and extremely funny.

The major shift from GUARDIANS to VOL 2, though, is the loss of a central villain. Thanos was a strong antagonist. VOL 2 lacked that, I felt; whilst the eventual target of our animosity is supposed to be god-like in his power and ambition, he just isn’t dark enough. I wonder whether the decision to focus on Peter Quill’s backstory is necessarily the right one, this early on in the GUARDIANS’ chronology. Sure, who knows how many films this particular branch of the Marvel multiverse is capable of supporting, but with such rich (and troubled?) characters at James Gunn’s disposal, there are other avenues that he could’ve explored. What are Rocket’s origins? Where does Groot come from? What are Gamora or Nebula planning on their family? The identity of Peter Quill’s father is such a central mystery to GUARDIANS mythology that it could’ve been addressed later in the series. That’s not to say that VOL 2 isn’t a good film – it really is – but it does feel like a third of fourth entry in a franchise. I’d also note that the original origin story for Quill is changed quite significantly in VOL 2: not a major point for most viewers, but something that will annoy purists.

As you’d probably imagine, VOL 2 contains some stunning effects. I saw a 2D performance, but I imagine this is a spectacle in 3D. The soundtrack – much like the original GUARDIANS – is brilliant. Again, it feels more space opera than super hero.

VOL 2 also hits the emotional beats that made GUARDIANS so popular. The new Baby Groot will melt your heart; but where his story goes from here will probably more hilarious than interesting. It’s Yondu who really powers the emotion-engine this time around. I won’t spoil the moment, but the blue merc has a pretty big element in this film that redeems his questionable conduct. Whilst it isn’t subtle, it’s definitely moving.

VOL 2 might not be quite as good as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, but it is pretty close. If you enjoyed the first one, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy this one.