It seems strange that one of my most anticipated Marvel movies of all time is a sequel to the one that nobody thought they would ever make. Sure, Thor was a stretch, Captain America was a gamble, Ant-Man was a colossal (or microscopically small) risk, but Guardians of the Galaxy? The series about a talking raccoon, a living tree, a green woman, a muscly bloke called Drax the Destroyer and a half human half space man called Star Lord? What a bunch of a-holes, how the hell is this going to work?

But James Gunn made it work, and it was outstanding. Vol. 2 then comes with lofty expectations, not bad for a sequel to Marvel’s biggest gamble. I’m happy to report then, that for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is on par with its older brother, even surpassing it in some ways.

Vol. 2 sees us meet the crew now working together as a unit. Renowned for their work in protecting the galaxy from Ronan the Accuser, they’re now hired by the Sovereign race to protect powerful batteries, in exchange for Nebula (Karen Gillian), Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister from the first film.

With their mission complete, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals a few batteries and insults the Sovereign leader, leading them to chase the Guardians into space into a deadly battle. They’re saved at the last moment, by a mysterious stranger.

It’s safe to say that Vol 2. Is very much about Star Lord and his past, but every one of the Guardians gets a little room to grow in the process. Perhaps most surprisingly, Michael Rooker’s return as blue skinned Ravager Yondu gets many of the films emotional notes, growing into a more three dimensional character than his initial debut suggested.

Vol. 2 takes what the first film did well and cranks it up, bringing more laughs, more emotion, and expands the roster of the Guardians as they explore a variety of new and exciting locations. They also improved on the first film’s weakest point, which were its villain and its final battle. Ronan the Accuser was something of a one note baddie, and the final battle over the planet Xandar was heavy in spectacle but light on substance.

Things are much better here. While the Sovereign race is the same sort of po-faced bores that Ronan and his cronies were, they’re not the main antagonist here. They’re more like cannon fodder. The true antagonist doesn’t reveal himself until later in the film. When he does - trust me - you’ll hate him, and you’ll want him dead, which is arguably something that was missing from the first film.

Elsewhere, Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a stand out. It’s hard not to see him as a gimmick for merchandise and marketing, but every scene that he is in, is a delight. He seems to have the temperament and personality of a toddler. During the opening battle, he dances around in the foreground while the action happens in the background, out of focus. For the most part, he’s just being adorable, but he also gets a few moments where he saves the entire gang despite his best efforts to just goof off and press the wrong buttons.

Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) is fantastic once more. Between the two films, he seems to have learned a sense of humour from the crew, but he’s not really sure how to use it effectively. He also continues to speak his mind with no sense of other people’s feelings, which makes for some hilariously awkward situations.

He also has an interesting relationship with newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who is an empath. She can read and feel the feelings of others, and she can also make them feel what she wants them to feel. She’s as socially naïve as Drax is, perhaps more so, but her abilities allow for an interesting window into the grief that Drax is still processing over the death of his wife and daughter. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) arguably the straight man (or woman) of the group gets more to do here as well, as she has a chance to explore the other side of her relationship with her villainous sister and struggle to process her feelings for Star Lord. She also evolves slightly beyond the trope of the bad ass warrior woman into something a little more nuanced.

Vol. 2 hits you with joke after joke, and Star Lord’s affinity for the eighties allow for another stellar sound track, as well as a few earth based gags that soar over the heads of the Guardians. Plus, perhaps one of my favourite cameos of all time.

Vol. 2 has an advantage over the first film because it doesn’t need to spend time bringing all the characters together, which gives them all more time to interact with each other, providing the moments when the movie is at its best. However, sometimes you almost get the feeling that director James Gunn is trying too hard. Some scenes feel as though he’s hanging over your shoulder, waiting for you to laugh, waiting for you to get the joke.

It’s an unfair criticism, but it’s the consequence of the inevitable dialling up of a sequel. Vol. 2 avoids some of the common sequel pitfalls by understanding that bigger doesn’t always mean better, and while the stakes are arguably higher this time around, things feel more tightly contained. The problem lies in the fact that second time around, it all isn’t as fresh. The first film was a breath of fresh air, closer to Star Wars than The Avengers, a superhero movie but not quite. Second time around, it’s lost none of its appeal, but there’s a feeling of re-treading ground.

I walked away from Vol. 2 feeling like it was exactly as good as the first film. There was a high bar set, and it reached it. Sequels are often worse than their predecessors, occasionally better. They’re rarely on par. Still, it’s great to be back with the Guardians, and they remain Marvel’s most enjoyable bunch of a-holes, and I can’t wait to see them pop up again in Infinity War and their next solo outing.