Take a deep breath. The sweet smell of summer blockbusters is in the air. With dazzling special effects, brilliantly chosen 1970s music and a genuine movie-going good-time vibe, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” hits the big-budget bullseye.

The first Marvel film since last year’s surprise hit, “Doctor Strange,” is finally here, and it kicks off an exciting progression in the Marvel Comics Extended Universe (MCEU) that will continue this summer with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and this fall with “Thor: Ragnarok.” Guardians is a bit more of a cosmic fantasy than typical earthbound superhero fare, but it is fun, funny and engaging through and through.

Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and his band of misfit mercenaries are at it again, this time at odds with Ayesha and a species of genetically perfected humanoids called “Sovereigns” (completely covered in gold; it’s a nice touch). With the help of Star Lord’s long-estranged father, they discover more than they bargained for about the universe, and each other. The plot takes a few twists and turns that prevent further disclosure here, but rest assured, all your questions will be answered and you will be wildly entertained.

From the opening scene where the Guardians are battling a giant space octopus, highlighting each of their strengths and personalities, the tone is set. Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr. Blue Sky blasts as Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) shimmies across the screen, highlighting the visual feast (and humor) that is to come. The magic doesn’t let up until the very last frame, and the party continues through the credits, where there are multiple scenes to sit through, including the unveiling of the next bad guy, if you’re willing to do a little research.

Director James Gunn returns to the helm, and the core cast of Pratt, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as the foul-mouthed Rocket Raccoon, Michael Rooker as Yondu and Karen Gillan as Nebula reprise their roles with relative ease and clear joy. Joining the fray this time are Kurt Russell as Ego, the living planet, who also happens to be Peter Quill’s father, and Elizabeth Debicki as the stone-faced leader of the Sovereigns, Ayesha.  It is a fantastic and diverse cast that shines in each their own way and complement each other through their wildly eccentric personalities.

Ensemble casts are challenging, but I have been impressed time and time again by the way that Marvel and its directors have delicately balanced the characters’ screen time and dialogue. Of particular note is the use of cutting-edge CGI to make Baby Groot one of the best infantile characters in film history.

I imagine that in 30 years, the Guardians will rival Star Trek and Star Wars in the pantheon of iconic science-fiction adventures. Chris Pratt may in fact become the Han Solo of his generation, but with a bit more flair, and better special effects (no disrespect to George Lucas.) The characters created in the universe warrant a costume or make-up design award with particularly strong attention to the sharpness of the primary colors used. Bold, bright and beautiful yellows, reds and blues highlight what are truly memorable non-human beings.

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2” is a winner. With the characters slated to appear in next year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” as well as the inevitable volume 3 in 2020, there will be no shortage of their presence in the MCEU. Expect toy sales and merchandising to dominate this summer’s retail universe as well, which will raise awareness even further. “Guardians Volume 2” is a fantastically entertaining sequel, a rare and unexpected improvement on its predecessor.