Movie review: Guardians of the Galaxy is an antidote to the summertime blues

Fresh, fun and full of fireworks, Marvel’s latest might be its best.

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It’s 1988, and young Peter Quill must say goodbye to his dying mother. Face streaked with tears, he takes comfort in his Sony Walkman and the mixtape — Awesome Mix Vol. 1 — she’d made him of her favorite pop songs. Then he gets beamed up into a spaceship; exactly what a newly orphaned kid needs to become well-adjusted.

Flash forward a couple decades and young Peter has grown into a legendary outlaw, adopting the moniker Star-Lord. His latest heist is an orb of unknown origin and purpose; all he knows is someone will pay enough for it for him to double-cross his surrogate dad Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned alien leader of the Ravagers.

Turns out this dude Ronan (Lee Pace) has eyes for the trinket as well, and sends his flunkies to relieve our protagonist of his ill-gotten gains. Star-Lord makes it out of the fray and books it to fence the item on Xandar. Meanwhile, Yondu has put a bounty on his head, which catches the eyes of Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), a biomechanically enhanced, trigger-happy raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree with immense strength and a limited vocabulary. So, enterprising bounty hunters that they are, they try to bag and tag Star-Lord. Of course, when Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the goods, they all get pinched in the ensuing melee.

In the Kyln, they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a legendary badass bent on revenge against Ronan — not exactly the meet-cute Gamora needs, seeing as the entire planet hates her for her part in his evil deeds. Rocket hatches a mutually beneficial plan for them all to escape and get riches or revenge, if they can manage not to kill each other in the meantime. Turns out that little trinket is a bigger deal than anyone expected, and the unlikely makeshift team must band together to stop Ronan from using its power to further his genocidal cause.

Guardians of the Galaxy manages to deliver everything you’re looking for without anything you don’t want. It moves at a fast clip but doesn’t sacrifice its heart for the sake of comedic pacing. Guardians manages to stay fresh the entire way through by abandoning the plodding task of universe-building and trusting its audience to be smart enough to enjoy the adventure in medias res, a gambit that pays off big time. No sluggish expository info dumps, no drawn-out character bios; just a straightforward story with five characters who kick serious ass.

Co-written and directed by James Gunn, whose previous claims to fame include Slither and the screenplay for the Dawn of the Dead, this flick is yet another amazing entry into the Marvel cinematic catalog entrusted into the hands of filmmakers that are practically nobodies — Joe and Anthony Russo from Captain America II, anyone? It subtly advances the overarching Phase II storyline with grace and finesse.

If you’ve seen the trailers — and yes, the rest of the soundtrack is just as awesome — you’ll get exactly what you’re paying to see. And you’ll probably watch it in theaters a second time. Put your faith in Guardians of the Galaxy to protect your hard-earned cinema bucks.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13. Directed by James Gunn. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace. Now playing.

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