And this is one of the few (although pronounced) flaws of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. No, not Pratt's abs necessarily. But a weirdly pronounced lean by director James Gunn to fulfill superhero movie tendencies. Family drama, unfortunate literal explanations of characters' pasts, and a will-they/won't-they relationship that actually only has chemistry in the telling of it. Whatever you feel about it, Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) dancing, which bookended the first movie, encapsulated the nonsensical joy and the thumbing of its nose at the ridiculousness of the bloated Marvel market of the time, and what made that movie really work.
Director Gunn would have done better to highlight irreverencies once again, and Vol. 2 flags when it gets too serious. It's only then that we see how thin (to the point of lazily written) the characters are -- and you begin to wonder how their personalities are going to stand up against the clash of the whole Avengers cast when they all come together.
Despite all this, Vol. 2 is undoubtedly a scenic, blithesome journey. Even if the idea isn't as fresh as the original, overall Vol. 2 is a tighter script and snappier narrative. The derivations from canon aren't always welcome (Ego's role is one that begs to be turned into a joke as much as his name should be, and Mantis is a mere shadow of her empowered original self), but are buoyed by an intensely likable cast. The action scenes are better choreographed so that we are able to fully enjoy and comprehend everything that is going on. The quips are generally more comfortable and you want to love the characters more even if you don't fully remember them from the first outing. Baby Groot is undeniably delightful and darn it if Karen Gillan doesn't make Nebula an even more compelling character this time around.
All of the compliments here sound backhanded, but all in all, Guardians moves at an enjoyable clip, avoiding the bog of introducing the next movie in the Avengers-verse, or so much of the over-exposition current films suffer from. More than any other film this year, it delivers in laughs and appreciable action. What makes it different than all the other superhero movies that attempt to achieve the general checklist, is that it appears to do it in service of the movie rather than in service of a profit, which so many of today's superhero movie veneers aren't able to conceal. In the same way, Baby Groot is cute in a way that never comes off as annoying or ingratiating even if it could have done so easily.
Chris Pratt admittedly banters better than he emotes, but he's sort of a perfect representation of Guardians of the Galaxy: better at cheeky humor than aphoristic relationships, and yet so good-natured and good-hearted that you can't help but overlook its weaknesses to appreciate its whole.