GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2: With the notable exceptions of THE GODFATHER PART II (1974) and JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017), sequels seldom attain the heights reached by their predecessors. This follow-up to the 2014 surprise hit starring Marvel Studios’ galactic misfits adds to this ignoble tradition. If the first movie was the origin story about how the outer space misanthropes came together, this second one’s meandering plot is about how they blend into a “family”. Thematically, it feels uncomfortably trite since this is the exact same idea that THE FAST AND FURIOUS flicks have wrapped themselves around for a couple of years while scoring high on the entertainment quotient (F8 not so much). But “family” drives the rather bland screenplay of director/writer James Gunn (SLITHER) who centers much of the film around Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) reunion with his father (Kurt Russell) that he’s never seen and the subsequent “daddy issues” that surface. As if that conflict weren’t enough, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is reunited with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) in a relationship that all but defines the word “dysfunctional”. All this occurs as the title characters are fleeing from a race of gold-skinned beings (Who resemble victims of Auric Goldfinger) whose wrath is incurred when Rocket (Voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals some of their batteries (Oh, those larcenous raccoons!). Enter the pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his gang of Ravagers hired to hunt down the Guardians. Along with Dave Bautista (SPECTRE) who has the best lines in the movie, Rooker’s (CLIFFHANGER) blue-faced outcast gives the film its few standout moments along with the elaborately ornate production and set design. But most of the irreverent humor that’s attempted here feels forced and off-center in most scenes while the music also comes off as out of sync with the tone of the work. In fact, this bloated overlong installment is way too self-conscious and makes the mistake of taking itself much too seriously which seldom bodes well for a comedy in any setting.

CRITIC’S GRADE: C

CLOSING CREDITS: All you need to know about why VOL. 2 is such a directionless mess can be seen in the closing credits. Audiences have become conditioned to routinely sit through the bitter end of Marvel Studios movies for “teasers” from upcoming films. There are five of these at the tail end of GUARDIANS VOL. 2 and honestly, none of them are worth waiting around for. This is a prime example of more being less and why wretched excess in a sequel just winds up making it…well, wretched.