Sequel gets mix better than the original

To clear the record, I liked “Guardians of the Galaxy” quite a lot. The fact that I didn't love it as much as some should be noted going into this review of the sequel.

I was way down for the first movie's irreverence and the pure fun of its space action. I was less down for a busy plot that had the unenviable job of introducing a full team of players. I'll bet a lot more people remember the fun they had than the actual events of the film.

This leaves “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” less weighed down with introductions, but facing the expectations of its successful predecessor. And, just as I was in the minority on the like/love spectrum for the original, I may be in the minority with this position: I like “Vol. 2” even better.

There's still plenty of plot, but this time we know most of the players. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still leading the team, battling baddies and his own demons shaped by the space father he never knew.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is dealing with her own family drama in a reunion with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), making for a pretty fierce sibling rivalry.

Bringing both humor and some surprising emotional depth are the muscle-y Drax (Dave Bautista) and the rodent-y Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). And, yes, as you'll recall, we've also got Baby Groot (voiced, apparently, by Vin Diesel, though it's hard to tell). Groots gonna Groot.

There's also returning baddie Yondu (Michael Rooker) and a new character played by Kurt Russell. Hmm, I wonder who he could be …

Director James Gunn still has a lot of plates to spin in terms of plot and characters, but operating under the assumption that the audience is caught up, things feel more focused than the original. This gives him more room to do what he does best: make audiences in movie theaters have as much fun as possible.

A whimsical action set-piece that runs over the opening credits is a great tone-setter — and also the first in a number of moments that make this one a recommended upgrade to the 3-D experience. The Guardians battling a massive interdimensional creature as Baby Groot boogies to oldies is the perfect way to set the plate.

The cast is still charming, and the effects are a three-dimensional eye orgy. But what made “Guardians” (and then “Deadpool”) such refreshing additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the winking and wisecracking humor. That's on full display here, as “Vol. 2” remixes all the elements into a great popcorn/space-buddy flick.