Correction: A previous version on this review incorrectly described the planet of Berhert. The story has been updated.
With a title slyly evoking the music-compilation aesthetic embodied by its 1970s-hit-heavy sound track, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” manages to re-create the formula of self-aware, snarky humor and unapologetic action that made the original 2014 film such a pleasing package of ear and eye candy, while at the same time avoiding the sophomore slump of sequels that risk audience fatigue by repeating rather than building on what worked the first time. The new film is more expansive, more beautiful, funnier, nuttier and — this is the most difficult trick for any comic-book movie to pull off — more touching than the first film.
The team of five quarrelsome superheroes returns intact, or mostly intact, with the barely articulate tree-man Groot having been reduced, at the end of the last film, to the sapling-size Baby Groot, still voiced by Vin Diesel, but as if he were exhaling helium from a party balloon. And the film kicks off like a party, with an opening credit sequence featuring Groot shaking his adorably twiggy booty to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” on a boombox as Chris Pratt’s Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax and Bradley Cooper’s CGI raccoon Rocket do battle with an alien starbeast intent on attacking the Anulax batteries they have been hired to protect.
The Guardians may be mercenaries, but they’re far from all business, occasionally pausing to queue up one of Peter’s favorite tracks as a sonic backdrop to the impending action. (The filmmakers, led by returning director and co-writer James Gunn, also oblige, as in the film’s tour-de-force set piece: a scene featuring mass killing, set to “Come a Little Bit Closer” by Jay and the Americans, as a flying arrow on autopilot — the signature weapon of Michael Rooker’s Yondu the Ravager — pierces through multiple bodies over the course of the tonally inappropriate yet perfectly curated song.)
That’s not the only dazzling visual, in this sharply choreographed and ravishingly designed comedic space opera. One scene, featuring Gamora’s green body, silhouetted against a red landscape, is so painterly pretty, a la “Avatar’s” moon of Pandora, that my eyes hurt — in a good way.
The real story doesn’t get underway until our ethically tarnished heroes — having stolen some of the same batteries they had previously been guarding against theft — crash-land on the planet of Berhert. There, Peter meets his long-lost father, the appropriately named Ego (Kurt Russell), leading to what appears to be a tender family reunion — and striking a tone that will characterize the rest of the film, much of which takes place on Ego’s home planet. Family — the kind that is defined by blood, and the kind for whom you will spill blood, even without sharing DNA — is the theme of this tale, which manages to evoke genuine, deep feelings, along with belly laughs.
Much of the film’s humor has to do with stupidity resulting from efforts to look cool. One villain character, who has given himself the moniker Taserface (Chris Sullivan of “This Is Us”), is mocked repeatedly for the ineffectuality of his meant-to-be-threatening handle. In another scene, Peter compares Yondu — his surrogate father, who raised him as a child — to Mary Poppins, as Yondu descends from the sky, like the famous nanny, holding his arrow aloft like her umbrella. “Mary Poppins? Is he cool?” asks the clueless Yondu.
Yes, Mary Poppins is cool, Peter reassures him, with an implied wink to the audience. Winks, of a more literal variety, are a recurring sight gag, as the cynical Rocket tries, unsuccessfully, to signal his sarcastic digs, by repeatedly batting the one eye that everyone can see.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” suffers from no such fatal exertions. Gunn, whose film includes more world building than the original movie — and the introduction of a charming new character, the buglike empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) — delivers backstory, story and the promise of stories to come with the breezy, effortless skill of a master raconteur.
This is not a superhero movie in the ponderous mold of DC Comics’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” or even its fellow Marvel movies centering on Captain America and the Avengers. Falling somewhere between the sardonicism of the “Iron Man” trilogy and the self-aware meta-movie high jinks of the R-rated yuk-fest “Deadpool,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a toe-tapping, eye-popping indication that summer is here, and that it might not be so bad after all.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains action violence and suggestive and scatological humor. 137 minutes.