I doubt anyone could confidently have foretold the runaway success of Marvel’s original Guardians of the Galaxy. When it opened in summer 2014, I had never once heard of its characters; moreover, talking raccoons and pleasing filmgoing, in my experience, rarely co-localized. But the raccoon Spoke, and It Was Good. Actually really good.

It also made lots of money, so it’s no surprise what happened next. Marvel is the glowing crucible where dollars and follow-ups are forged. I know of no entity that can so reliably cultivate any and every celluloid success, spawning from each seed a thick and verdant bed of sequels and spinoffs. So now, three years later and as it must, comes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Expectations run high, and the question is whether writer/director James Gunn (returning once more here) can deliver.

He does. Volume 2 is at least as funny, and has even more heart, than the first. The visuals are stunning, the banter is easy, the laughs are solid. The characters feel lived in, each one gets plenty of screen time, and Baby Groot is just as terrific as the many trailers suggest. (Though Vin Diesel is again credited, the gravel-voiced actor’s relation to this miniature CGI walking tree now seems tenuous at best.) The plot is a bit shallow and resorts once more to the old Marvel playbook, generating some new universe-menacing threat that somehow no prior hero has yet encountered. In positive news, though, it does have Kurt Russell. And some legitimately bad-ass scenes.

This movie is self-aware and perhaps a bit too proud of its own awesomeness. Volume 2 isn’t the surprise smash the first one was — we all know what’s coming, now — but it’s about as good as it reasonably can be. Blockbusters are made, not born, and Marvel has again grown a winner. Makin’ it look easy. (If a deep bench of talent, hundreds of millions of dollars in top-shelf digital effects, and a team of nine screenwriters qualifies.)

We live in a time when some shiny new movie comes out every couple of weeks. But step back and think what a real marvel (ahem) this is: Properly situated atop the long plod of human creation stretching back to cave paintings, this is pretty much a masterpiece. Hundreds of people collaborated to make it, using advanced computers, working with light, sound, words, actors, CGI, music, and oh so much money. All for two hours of pleasure.

A third installment has already been greenlit. That’s good. Let’s not begrudge this series its success. There’s a lot of crap out there, and this isn’t crap. Nitpick if you must, but you will laugh, you may even weep, and most of all, you will leave entertained.

Haus Verdict: A sequel that pops like firecrackers, a staccato eruption of little dopamine hits tracing shimmering technicolor contrails across its wry, lovable galaxy. If that fussy verbiage doesn’t do it for you, try this: See it. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens Friday, May 5. 

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