Eamonn Rafferty’s review published on Letterboxd:
Guardians of the Galaxy was a Marvel property that I wasn't familiar with and when I heard that it was getting the big screen adaptation, I didn't have a clue what to expect. So when it had its cinematic release in 2014 I absolutely loved the characters and this new universe that we were exploring in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Leading up to seeing the sequel, I wasn't entirely sold on the trailers released as they felt pretty much identical in the footage they were showing us whilst being vague on the plot of the film and I was afraid of it becoming similar to how I compare my feelings of Iron Man to Iron Man 2 (Iron Man: didn't expect that to be so good, then get hyped up for sequel and not like it at all).
For the most part, I enjoyed the sequel and would put it in the top tier of sequels within the Marvel Cinematic Universe as I like how it further develops the group from a band of misfits uniting together to stop a major threat to actually becoming a family and so when someone does utter the words "we're family" during a serious moment (like many films have done before) it feels earned and not out of place. While the original was grand and epic in scale, I was surprised by just how self-contained and character driven Vol. 2 is. While we witnessed Peter Quill having to come at peace with the loss of his mother, here it focuses on Quill finally meeting his father Ego and learn about his lineage. As this is seen as the main focus, there's the development of Gamora and Nebula relationship, giving us some further backstory to their upbringing under Thanos and why Nebula is the way she is, to Rocket and Yondu coming to a respective understanding of their similar upbringing and even Drax and Mantis, though mostly providing comedic laughs in comparison to the other character relationships, provides one serious scene that was subtle yet more powerful than I expected it to be. The special effects for the most part where we're shown the worlds in particular is very well done and even the cinematography from Henry Braham may have some of the best imagery in an MCU film. While the film is colourful and ups the ante of comedy here, the film has a few moments where not only does some scenes appear dark, under the surface some of the stuff is just as dark and even for a Marvel/Disney combo I thought that was interesting. The chemistry between the cast is just as good here as it was in the original, with Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana getting more to deal with here, handling more emotional material and providing really good performances, whilst Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper are providing most of the laughs. Outside of the Guardians members, I thought Kurt Russell was really good as Ego, the man is makes his role effortlessly good and Michael Rooker as Yondu for me was the most impressive in terms of his character progression in the film and he has some of the best moments in the film. A special mention to Sean Gunn as Yondu's second-in-command Kraglin, he had a much more expanded role here than he did in the original and I thought he was good here. As far as the villain goes, I very much liked the villain and definitely is one of the better ones in the MCU.
While I enjoyed the sequel there was a few issues that I had with it. Like most surprise hits, sometimes the sequel goes for more and while the comedy in the original felt more organic, here some of the jokes feel forced and misplaced, especially in the first act. There's even a few serious, emotional moments where a joke line or two is thrown in that I can see how it works for some people, while others may consider it tiresome. From the performances I thought Karen Gillan, while her physical performances and mannerisms were much better this time round as she had better material to work with, I still didn't like how her lines half of the time were delivered. While Dave Bautista has more comedic moments as Drax here, it feels that they're giving him too much of that because the character is literally sidelined in comparison to the rest. As self-contained as the film is, there's a few things that feel like Gunn was universe-building as it were as we get a brief expansion about the Ravagers and also introduce us to a race of so-called higher beings known as the Sovereign and when the film takes the route it does, some people will feel that the film would've been better focused on the Ravagers/Sovereign instead. While I said for the most part of the CGI was solid, it does look a bit messy come the final act. Also while the character is cute as heck, even so much so that the cuteness is also used as an effective joke in one brief line, I didn't think much of Baby Groot compared to the adult counterpart from the original.
James Gunn has made a solid and fun sequel in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While it's not without its flaws, such as the jokes feeling a bit forced especially in the first act, once the film focuses on the theme of fatherhood for Quill and even further develops character relationships for the rest of the Guardians, I found it to be emotionally engaging. While the main story is more self-contained than I expected, I feel like this might have some people not liking the sequel not first viewing, but might have a different appreciation for it upon rewatching it. Gunn does setup a few things in the film that feels like it'll be explored further in Vol. 3. The chemistry amongst the cast is as solid as ever and film provides some solid performances from Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker and Kurt Russell.