Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Directed by James Gunn

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Directed by James Gunn
Courtesy of Disney
Following the perhaps unexpected success of the original Guardians of the Galaxy — surprisingly only because it's the least known property adapted into the Marvel cinematic universe so far — writer/director James Gunn returns with the same crew, themes and signature flourishes of the original film, but turns up the volume on every element of his intergalactic misfit family soundtracked by soft-rock hits of the 1970s. And while the scenery remains spectacular and this corner of the Marvel U remains probably the most inventive, a little freshness has been lost in the second telling, and "family" themes get hammered home a little hard.
As Vol. 2 opens, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a successful mercenary unit who've been hired by the Sovereign to protect valuable batteries; in return, they will reunite Gamora (Zoe Saldana) with her estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Rocket (Bradley Cooper) steals the batteries instead, the Sovereign come after the Guardians, and they're saved by a mysterious figure who turns out to be a powerful being named Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego has a particular interest in these Guardians: he's been trying to track down his son, Starlord (Chris Pratt).
In an Empire Strikes Back-esque narrative split, Starlord follows Ego to his home planet, also called Ego (sensing a theme?), accompanied by Gamora and Drax (Dave Bautista), in order to learn about Starlord's heritage, deal with his daddy issues and finally get George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" into the soundtrack. Ego's lone companion on the planet is an empath named Mantis (Pom Klementieff), whose skittishness serves as a warning that a guy named Ego may in fact be self-interested.
Meanwhile, Rocket and tiny baby Groot (Vin Diesel) — since being destroyed at the end of the first film and replanted, he's still growing from being root of Groot — stay home to repair the ship and deal with Yondu (Michael Rooker), the Ravager who's been hired by the Sovereign to recover the batteries Rocket has stolen.
The extent of the plot machinations here is slightly less space hooey than the first film — who's fighting whom over what is irrelevant enough that they background an entire opening battle in order to focus on a baby Groot dance sequence — and only serve to set up the family issues nearly everyone is tackling. Gamora and Nebula continue to bicker over who daddy (Marvel superbad Thanos) loved more; the entire Dagoba-esque side quest that Starlord is on amounts to little more than abandonment issues; and baby Groot requires constant, often hilarious babysitting.
Even Rooker's Yorbu — who gets a bigger role here befitting his status as one of the original comic book Guardians and who moves closer to that spot by the end — is dealing with the rejection of his Ravager peoples because he broke their code of honour by kidnapping young Starlord on behalf of Ego in the first place.
If this seems like too much, too much is the Guardians brand at this point; the second film is overstuffed with more of everything that worked about the original. Space battles are bigger yet not necessarily more coherent; interpersonal relationships are further complicated, in some cases (like Yorbu's with the Ravagers) more to set up sequels than to add to these proceedings; and the soft-rock hits get bigger and more prominent.
It remains fun — the sitcom banter in the middle of dangerous circumstances, the charming chemistry the cast share — and shit sure blows up real nice. It's an entirely pleasant and occasionally delightful place to spend time. It serves up almost exactly what you ordered and expect to receive. It's disappointing only because there were some delightful surprises the first time around and the power to surprise is diminished now.

Order the soundtrack here. (Disney)