Marvel tries to capture lightning again with the next installment of its most out-there property. It didn’t get the whole storm like with Vol. 1, but there’s definitely spark to spare.

First dances are crucial, and in that regard Marvel certainly impresses as a partner on the floor back in 2013. To the beat of Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love, the comic book powerhouse asserted that space’s wildest bandits would be an unconventional superhero film and through that difference made their first yarn a necessity in your cinematic diet.

The foreshadowing nature of first dances lives on in Vol. 2, surfacing when Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is jamming to ELO’s Mister Blue Sky while the others – Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) – are aggressively preventing an octopus-like beast from stealing Anulax Batteries own by Golden High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, stunning and commanding as ever). It’s the moves that set up the rest of the show: Whereas Vol. 1 has Quill waltzing toward an objective, Baby Groot spends all his time root-tapping around the arena.

It’s not a sin that Vol. 2 wallows in the beat – after all, that’s how it mines its distinctive charms. The problem is that the film stays pleased long enough in a joke or a moment that, at times, the galaxy doesn’t seem to be in danger anymore. This extended and less-urgent tune, which begins right after a near-death chase brought forth by the very person who tasked the Guardians to protect the batteries, is orchestrated by Quill’s dad, Ego (Kurt Russell, ramping up that slickness of ‘80s cinema), and his bug-like assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff, charmingly skittish and awkward) who ask our ragtag bandits to visit their hometown – an overtly peaceful, candy-colored planet called, well, Ego.

Per the trailers, Ego or anything linked to him is the plot, the reason why Vol. 2 exists. Accompanying with the mystery of Quill’s parentage are, obviously, all sorts of threats, but only a couple are truly significant. In place of Vol. 1 graceful weaving of character building and story progression is an episodic approach where each Guardian learns more about themselves and the big answer in isolation. A spotlight on Gamora’s testy relationship with sister Nebula (Karen Gillan, deliciously villainous) here, Rocket partnering with Yondu (Michael Rooker, scene-stealing ability amplified) there, Drax’s “love” for Mantis around here and then back to Quill – the backstories of each are fully fleshed out and all must be told until completion before the main show can get off the bench, before the squad is whole again to face the antagonist.

Still, it’s in these isolated moments that a true star comes forth: James Gunn. The director is just as gleeful as a writer, crafting material that would still tickle even if there’s no cast to deliver them and fusing looseness into the humor that gives the outlandishness a neighborly feeling. Well, aside from that one joke about waste, or that phallic-centric bit. Gunn has also shown an improved comfort in adding style into the action; the apparently funkier cinematography from Henry Braham gives more cause to admire Scott Chambliss’ ultra-psychedelic and ready-for-retro sets.

But the best thing about Vol. 2 is Gunn’s consistent treatment and prioritization of emotion, which was the Vol. 1’s most surprising, startling (even Marvel Studios’ fanfare had to make way for the heartfelt opening first) and satisfying element. While “father and son” takes precedence in the story, other types of relationships are shown, too — all are well-germinated, most feature a frame-worthy moment and some can alter what we know about a character. These are possible thanks to, ironically, the vignette-by-vignette storytelling, adding further proof that Vol. 2 is a chart-topper that deserves more seamless song switches.

There should be enough business for Vol. 3, still. Three of the five post-credits scenes suggest so.


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