Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Marginally better than its supremely entertaining predecessor
Prodigal sons with tortured family histories repeatedly emerge from the panels of comic books with superhero destinies.
Kal-El is driven to protect Metropolis by the loss of his home planet Krypton, the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne on the streets of Gotham compel master Bruce to don the cowl of rough justice, orphan Peter Parker web-slings with a vengeance after his Uncle Ben is slain, and Tony Stark inherits the means to fashion Iron Man's armoury when his parents perish in a car accident.
In Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, wisecracking thief-for-hire Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) learns the agonising truth about his twisted lineage to a 1970s-heavy soundtrack including - pointedly - Father And Son by Cat Stevens.
Bigger by eight minutes and marginally better than its supremely entertaining predecessor, writer-director James Gunn's rollicking sequel blends a lip-smacking cocktail of irreverent humour, heart-tugging sentiment and spectacular action sequences.
Affectionate pop culture nods to Knight Rider, Cheers and Pac-Man jive enthusiastically next to running gags about male pride and human frailty, plus teasing quips at the expense of ill-tempered raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), who is dismissed as a "trash panda" and "triangle-faced monkey".
In the first film, Peter Quill (Pratt) escaped the clutches of space pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) to galvanise a motley crew of mercenaries comprising green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-seeking warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (Cooper) and cute tree-like sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel).
For the sequel's tongue-in-cheek opening salvo, expertly choreographed to ELO's foot-stomping anthem Mr Blue Sky, the Guardians face a razor-toothed beast that intends to steal the Anulax Batteries belonging to high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her Sovereign people.
As a reward for laser-blasting bravery, the snarky heroes take delivery of a prisoner: Gamora's estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who suffered grievously at the hands of their tyrannical father, Thanos.
Soon after, The Guardians encounter an omnipotent being, Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter's missing father.
"If he ends up being evil, we'll just kill him," Gamora tenderly assures her sceptical and teary-eyed companion.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 confidently spices a familiar brew with sinewy subplots and the introduction of Gamora's much-abused sibling, plus Ego's underling, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).
Pratt and Saldana turn up their heat on the "unspoken thing" between their comrades, while Bautista's hilariously literal hulk offers Peter the benefit of his romantic wisdom: "You just need to find a woman, who is pathetic like you."
Computer-generated double-act Rocket and Baby Groot scene-steal with aplomb, enriched with Cooper and Diesel's vocal performances.
Not everything is golden: an emotional crescendo cheekily borrows from a recent Disney animation and Star Trek, and the dizzying final showdown has been cast, disappointingly, in the same special effects-heavy mould as The Avengers and Captain America.
Gunn embraces the Marvel Comics fashion for teasing future instalments like an excitable, tongue-lolling puppy with a new rubber chew.
The sequel's end credits are peppered with cute surprises, including leading cast shaking their things and five additional scenes.
These are predominantly throwaway comic wheezes, except for a third bite-size morsel, which explicitly heralds the birth of an iconic character to fling magical mayhem when the Guardians Of The Galaxy return a few years hence.
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 8/10