Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Kurt Russell, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Peter Gunn, Vinn Diesel and Sylvester Stallone

Studio: Marvel/Disney

Rated: PG

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 17 Mins

For the better part of the past decade, Marvel has owned the first weekend in May (also known as Free Comic Book Day). Whether its been Avengers, Iron Man or last year’s blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, Marvel has successfully used May’s first weekend to launch billion dollar franchises and kick off summer with spectacle and style. It’s like a theme park opening its summer season with the most exciting roller coaster its got.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is no exception.

Video Marvel Entertainment

During an intergalactic firefight, the Guardians find themselves desperately outnumbered and outgunned. Just when all seems lost, they’re rescued by a stranger as powerful as he is mysterious named Ego (Kurt Russell), who soon claims to be Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) estranged father. While Quill and the Guardians try to discover the truth behind Ego’s claims and the implications these revelations may have on themselves and the entire universe, old rivals come looking to resolve unsettled vendettas. In the midst of it all, the bonds between the Guardians themselves are tested and redefined as allies become enemies and rivals become uneasy friends.

Like the original Guardians, Volume 2 is pure fun. It’s an action heavy thrill ride with outstanding special effects, rabid fire jokes and sight gags that can only be pulled off by CGI raccoons and sentient baby tress with an upbeat soundtrack that somehow perfectly marries seventies pop rock to a tongue-in-cheek space opera.

While Guardians has a lot going for it and never takes itself seriously, it’s at it’ best when focusing on the growing bonds between the main characters. The Guardians have become a dysfunctional space family of rogues and misfits that is greater than the sum of its parts when in a fight. The movie manages to pluck some surprisingly deep emotional chords from time to time as the characters crash and bang against each other recklessly. But don’t worry, any time GoTG2 threatens to get too deep it’s rescued by its own absurdity.

James Gunn does an excellent job balancing the humour and action, even when the two are going full bore. He keeps the movie’s narrative tongue fixed firmly in its cheek at all times. Chris Pratt reproduces the roguish charm that made the first one such a success and turned him into one of Hollywood’s current A-listers. Kurt Russell looks like he’s having a blast the entire time as Ego. Michael Rooker is appropriately crusty in his return gig as Ravager head Yondu and Dave Bautista shows great comedic presence and carries a surprisingly big chunk of the movie on his pro wrestling shoulders.

The only question mark is Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Like the first Guardians, she can’t decide which lane she’s driving in. She’s a headstrong, kickass, take no names take no prisoners warrior one moment and a sensitive nurturer who serves as the family’s emotional core the next. Make no mistake, both are believable but having the two sides co-exist in the same character seems alien (pun intended). While Saldana pulls both off admirably, the existence of both characters side by side somehow diminishes each. Watching a woman who was tortured by a homicidal space god growing up tenderly holding a vulnerable, baby Groot just doesn’t work.

The first half of Volume 2 a little slower, building up the story and setting up the reveal (that, in all honesty, we know is coming) but once it gets all going, GoTG2 wastes no time getting down to being a fun summer popcorn movie. While the humour is evenly spread out through the entire film, it saves most of the adrenaline for the second act and the last half of the movie flies by in high tempo action scenes.

Is it better than the first? Maybe, but at the very least it’s just as good which is all you can truly ask of a comic book themed space opera featuring characters the majority of the world had never heard off three years ago. It’s too bad Marvel couldn’t pull off a TV show with the necessary budget to do the Guardians justice, because watching the characters fight and banter and argue reminds you of your favourite sitcoms. The first Guardians caught everyone by surprise and blew the world away when it came out. While Volume 2 isn’t going to catch the world napping this time, it will keep you equally entertained. And make sure to stick around during the credits for all five post-credit scenes (yes, five).

Another thing is for certain; you’ll likely never see anything as adorable as a baby Groot in your entire life.

Image Marvel Entertainment