After many years of searching, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) finally meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), and begins to understand his place in the galaxy and his own heritage. However, the rest of the Guardians (Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker) are dealing with their own struggles and, before long, Star-Lord is forced to choose between his friends or his family...
It's safe to say that nobody expected Guardians of the Galaxy to be a hit. After all, it was based on a relatively obscure comic-book with no recognisable characters, directed by a genre director and with a cast of mid-tier actors, and featured a soundtrack pulled from a dad-rock radio station. People responded to it because it wasn't unlike anything they'd really seen before and couldn't be readily defined in any one particular category. It was sci-fi, but winking at the camera about its ridiculousness. It was comedy, but with a lot of action and emotional beats pumped through it.
Coming to the sequel, the weight of expectation can be felt and there's also the fact that a lot of what made the first one such a hit was its uniqueness. So how do you make it different and exciting for audiences the second time out? It's a tough ask of any director, and while the film doesn't have the same spark of originality, it's still as joyous and entertaining as you could hope for. The opening credits setpiece, set to ELO's Mr. Blue Sky and featuring an inter-dimensional monster terrorising a planet of ultra-perfect beings and a dancing Baby Groot, lets you know exactly what is to come - it's going to be irreverent and sweetly funny.
The film takes a turn into family drama and sentimentality, however, when we're introduced to Chris Pratt's estranged father, played by Kurt Russell. For the most part, it works and the film devotes quite a number of scenes to developing the relationship between Russell and Pratt to a believable point, so much so that when the third act begins to play, you really are taken by it all. Of course, this isn't a film just about Star-Lord finding his father - you've also got the vast array of supporting characters and the subplot between Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is very well laid out.
Chris Pratt nows wear the mantle of Star-Lord like a worn leather jacket, ably riffing on the comedic moments of the film and working through the emotional beats with Russell. The two bounce off another and Russell displays a fatherly warmth that makes it all the more affecting. You feel yourself wanting it to work out for them, regardless of the fact that the story is going to lead somewhere you might not want it to. Zoe Saldana is given more to deal with, placing her with a much more developed Karen Gillan as Nebula, whilst Rooker turns in a surprisingly resonant performance as Yondu. The extended cameos however, such Sylvester Stallone and Elizabeth Debicki, are fun but become somewhat distracting in parts.
Director James Gunn has a grasp on the story and the directing, but you do get the feeling that the film is definitely trying to reach for the humour, rather than allowing it bubble up naturally the way it did in the first one. That's not to say that the film isn't funny; it is, but it's trying to make you laugh a lot more. The soundtrack plays a much more significant role as well, and some of the choices do feel contrived and pointed, rather than feeling effortlessly chosen like they did in the first one.
Nevertheless, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 works its way through the two-hour runtime with few lulls, a lot of laughs and a surprisingly emotional kick to it. It's fun, it's entertaining, it's the best sequel you could have hoped for.