But driven by the indie, often delightfully deranged sensibilities of its director, James Gunn, Guardians Of The Galaxy was a delight, combining humour and science fiction action in a manner to rival Star Wars, barnstormed the global box office and became a fixture on many lists for best Marvel Cinematic Universe film.
But when you have lost the element of surprise, following that is no easy task. Happy to report, though, bar a few last act wobbles and the odd tonal shift, Gunn has done it again, crafting a sequel that keeps the focus on the characters we fell for first time around while pumping up the volume.
After the success of the first one – and perhaps learning from the travails of Joss Whedon who, by his own admission, had to endure a fair amount of interference on Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015) – Marvel have handed Gunn the keys to the kingdom. And that confidence is evident from the film's credit sequence, which presents an action set piece in a hilarious and highly unorthodox manner, while giving the incredibly cute Baby Groot (somehow still voiced by Vin Diesel) a glorious moment in the spotlight and serving notice that Awesome Mix Vol. 2, the mix tape that drives the film's soundtrack, is going to be every bit as earworm inducing as Vol. 1.
And, for the terrific first hour or so that seems to be the case with the movie as well. If the first film was about bringing this group of A-holes together, then convention dictates that the sequel should be about forcing them apart. But Gunn is clearly uninterested in what he should do and so this is actually a film about the group realising that, despite their huge differences, they function best as the universe's most dysfunctional family. Almost everyone here has parent or sibling issues, with Quill in particular finding himself in a weird version of My Two Dads, torn between Kurt Russell's (Death Proof) aptly named Ego and Michael Rooker's returning gnarly space pirate, Yondu. But the emotions this engenders are unexpected and genuine. Beneath the film's sass – and there is plenty of that again – there is a real beating heart.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is at its best when this motley crew are bickering and bantering amongst themselves (with Bautista’s wonderfully unfiltered Drax getting the lion's share of the best lines again, including the T-shirt-worthy, "I have famously huge turds") and outside parties, this time including Ego, Pom Klementieff's (Oldboy) sweet Mantis and Gamora's aggrieved sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), given more to do this time around. Hanging out with them is so much fun that it is a shame when Gunn finally makes a concession to convention and remembers that films like this typically have to have a plot and a villain.
With the introduction of both, that is when the movie starts to falter. What was previously assured becomes a little abrasive and, at times, unappealing. Jokes that landed unerringly start to miss the target, including a running gag about a bad guy called Taserface that is not as funny as it may have seemed on paper, while one sequence which is meant to be a moment of triumphant heroism comes across as a tasteless misstep. And the climax, in particular, suffers from the digital effects deluge now synonymous with Marvel outings.
Still, even when the pixels threaten to overwhelm, Gunn finds refuge in his main characters. There is plenty to enjoy here, whether it's the perfectly deployed Baby Groot moments, or a general strain of anarchic weirdness that runs all the way through the credits and which still feels unique to this franchise, not just within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but blockbusters in general. It is easy to overlook the odd off note when a mix is this awesome.
Perhaps not quite as fresh as the original, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is still a glory to behold, and news that Gunn is directing a third comes as absolutely no surprise. Based on this, we would pre-order our tickets today if we could.