Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and brief suggestive content.
2 hrs., 16 min.

If you’ve got daddy issues, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may help to dispel them.

The gang of intergalactic misfits has returned and, judging by the opening weekend box office of $145 million, has been welcomed back with wide-open arms. Marvel Studios, still riding the wave of superhero-driven movie mania, can pat itself on the back for taking a risk with the relatively obscure cast of characters back in 2014: This leap of faith has paid off in a big way.

In the second installment, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, portrayed by Chris Pratt, discovers his lineage in the form of his space-faring father, a celestial being known as Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell). The team consisting of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the green-hued Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and, of course, Baby Groot (voiced by not-a-baby Vin Diesel) tags along.

Guardians 2 succeeds by making Quill’s story, well, kind of the B plot. The A plot is reserved for a whole hell of a lot of character building, something one wouldn’t normally see in a box-office smash action film, but something that is much appreciated.

The Guardians of the Galaxy are for hire, working wherever the money will take them. After a successful mission, the team is chased by the humorously stiff golden beings known as Sovereign who pilot spaceships by playing a super-futuristic version of Galaga. The team is saved by Quill’s biological father, Ego, who brings half of them to his home planet.

Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot and Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame), run across fan-favorite Ravager, Yondu (Michael Rooker of The Walking Dead), and learn that a mutiny is afoot, making the blue-skinned, whistling-arrow-wielding badass an unlikely ally.

While Quill is basking in some quality father/son bonding with Ego, the team is given ample opportunity to become more than set pieces. The first installment did its best to breathe life into the cast. Here, it’s taken to an entirely different level.

Drax, the big, brutish being that revels in violence, has become the soul of the series. His bellowing laughter delivered at the most inappropriate of times (at one point referring to his bowel movements as “infamously large”) gives the audience a vessel into this weird, wild world. Who knew that the most relatable of the lot wouldn’t be the human, but rather the gray dude who literally laughs in the face of death?

This trait of the James Gunn-directed film is not unique to Drax. Even Yondu, the cold space pirate, is given permission to pluck the heartstrings. Having raised Quill, the father/adopted father dynamic is warm and honest, with the film’s most touching moments presented between the two.

In Guardians 2, every character is given time in the emotional limelight. Sisters Gamora and Nebula bring their feelings to the forefront; Yondu and Rocket, even, have a special moment; and, of course, Baby Groot, who in any other freaking film would have been used simply for the prime marketing opportunities (looking at you, Minions), is three-dimensional, and it’s hard not to sympathize with the tree’s human toddler-like emotions, throwing tantrums, sobbing and celebrating in victory.

The film throws a few surprises our way, too, such as cameos by Sylvester Stallone playing Starhawk (Stakar Ogord), the original leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics. True to Marvel fashion, the end credits are worth sifting through for the five — that’s right, five — extra scenes (blink and you’ll miss Jeff Goldblum).

Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the superhero film audiences have longed for? What it lacks in brevity (a few moments could have been trimmed), it more than makes up for in heart, humor and the expected summer action sequences. If anything, Guardians 2 is the superhero film we need, now, and again when the heroes return.