Arriving at the end of summer 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy was seen as Marvel Studio’s first real gamble due to the fact that it featured a talking raccoon and a tree amongst it’s main characters. Fast forward three years and the Guardians themselves are now household names thanks to director James Gunn’s impressive execution which featured an infectious soundtrack, gorgeously designed environments, and a genuinely lovable group of rogues at the centre of the story. With all of the above being brought back for Vol. 2 and Gunn being given slightly more free rein, this is a sequel for which fans have high expectations and it’s a pleasure to say that for the most part, the film is able to meet them.

Opening just a few short months after the events of the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 takes us on a journey through the cosmos once again, introducing us to new characters along the way while providing further depth to existing ones. The Guardians themselves are now heroes for hire and following a successful mission protecting a race of beings known as the Sovereign, they’re star is on the rise throughout the universe.

When we catch up with the characters at the start of the film it seems that very little has changed, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is still the teams charismatic leader pining after the beautiful-but-deadly Gamora (Zoe Saldana), while Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) seem to have adjusted to their new-found roles as heroes but don’t always react in the most suitable way to the circumstances they find themselves in. The teams are still mis-fits but ones that now have a purpose, yet that purpose leads them to a new challenge that demands self-discovery and reveals how important family is, even if you don’t always realise who your real family are.

This theme of familial bonds is best realised when Quill and the rest of the Guardians happen upon a chance encounter with Ego, a celestial being who isn’t only a living planet but also Quill’s father. Ego is a welcome addition to the film and the most intriguing of the new characters Gunn introduces, with Kurt Russell seeming to relish the chance to join the now-beloved franchise. With a swagger to match Quill himself, Ego quickly sets about rectifying his relationship with his estranged son, enticing him into following in his father’s footsteps as an immortal and all-powerful – ‘god with a small g’ – being. As this plays out, it causes a rift between the Guardians themselves and sees them separate into smaller fractions scattered throughout the galaxy, and some of the dynamics prove to be both surprising and a joy to watch.

Whether it be Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) finding common ground in the way they were taught to look out for themselves, Gamora and her psychotic sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) overcoming their troubled past, or Drax and other new addition Mantis (Pom Klementieff) simply learning to socialise, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes sure that the characters develop over the course of the film. It’s a pleasure to watch their interactions play out with each actor seemingly having the time of their lives in their respective roles, and it goes a long way in making each of these alien creatures feel relatable and engaging. At times the actual plot of the story can get lost within these interactions, but each character is such a joy to watch it’s easy to forget that there’s an endgame in mind.

This engagement is further helped by the impressive environments Gunn crafts in which the interactions take place. Ego’s planet in particular is composed of lush scenery and otherworldly landscapes, with colour playing a very key part in it’s creation. Considering it’s composed almost entirely of CGI elements, it manages to feel real as Quill and Ego’s relationship blossoms, all to a  soundtrack consisting of classics from the 70s and 80s. Whereas the first film used music to separate itself from the other Marvel films and Suicide Squad attempted to copy this tactic and came across as a poorly edited music video, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses music to help tell the story and elevate scenes which are already effective in their own right. Gunn certainly shows just how creative he is with the worlds and songs he brings to the film and because of this it manages to feel like a breath of fresh air in a market with is currently saturated with superhero films, an impressive feat by any means.

This feeling does diminish slightly however as the film enters it’s third act. With no real plot driving the film in favour of building up the characters relationships, it seems that at this point Gunn realised he had to bring proceedings to a close and this is where Vol. 2 suffers. The reveal of the big-bad is one that you’ll see coming a mile off while the final showdown is bloated and often generic, using a formula established in previous Marvel films.

There’s also an over-reliance on exposition to drive the narrative at times, which isn’t all that surprising given the new additions Gunn introduces as well as the depth he provides for others. It can be distracting as characters reel off dialogue intended to fill the audience in on previous events and historical happenings but thankfully, this group of rogues is engaging enough to pull it off despite this. At 2 hours and 17 minutes long though it does outstay it’s welcome to an extent, especially when considering the climax itself takes course over the final half an hour, but Gunn manages to keep the humour intact throughout to keep audience members laughing even during the scenes which do feel like filler, and Baby Groot proves to be just as adorable as you think he would without treading into Minion territory.

It may not hit the heights of the first, but it’s a pleasure to watch these characters grow onscreen when so many summer blockbusters focus only on spectacle, and because of that it can be considered a triumph.