A movie like “Guardians Of The Galaxy” makes you think of “The Avengers,” another Marvel product featuring a great set of heroes. Both movies have a lot in common, and the former owes a great deal to the latter. However, in more ways than one, this is the anti-Avengers. Earth's mightiest heroes have plenty of tortured backstories and issues between them, but they are still an elite force who mostly chose to become the heroes they are.
The members of the “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” however, are a motley crew of genuine outcasts, who are assembled by pure chance. They are thieves, bounty hunters, assassins, many of whom have had their powers inflicted on them by the cruelty of others.
They're brought together by the movie's main focus, Peter Quill (the compulsively watchable Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord. He was abducted from Earth by a child and raised by a group of thieves called the Ravagers, who decide to be nice and raise him rather than eating him. When he decides to steal a valuable and mysterious orb by himself, he incurs their wrath and that of quite a few others who want it for themselves and their own destructive purposes.
One of those is the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace), a terrorist who seeks to cleanse the universe of anyone who conflicts with his vision of it. Which happens to be practically everyone. He sends the hot, green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the Orb, just as a few bounty hunters, the tree-like Groot (Vin Diesel) and the talking, tech-savvy raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Just bear with me. Naturally, things quickly go awry and they are put in prison, where the vicious Drax (Dave Bautista) takes an interest in them.
They all become reluctant allies in the name of self-interest, then something deeper, as they realize they must team up to break out of prison, then to save the galaxy from Ronan. The result is a kind of wildly entertaining amusement park with a new attraction around every corner, where the humor not only drips from the screen, it dances with joy, much as Star-Lord does when we first meet him. Who needs comic relief when every character practically has a zinger a minute?
While the movie's reach occasionally exceeds its grasp due to too many characters and their rather abrupt emotional turnarounds, as well an overstuffed plot, nothing that is focused on feels wasted or boring. The pace is brisk, but rarely feels rushed, and every shot, every frame feels like it has its purpose (especially when it tastefully focuses on Zoe Saldana). Hell, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” is practically an homage to all the various tropes that make sci-fi so great, since this is the kind of amusement park that allows you to see every one of its building blocks without shame or danger. Plus, it helps that it comes along with a killer retro soundtrack.
Having never read the comic books it's based on, I can't say if it does them justice. Maybe I would be harsher on “Guardians Of The Galaxy” if it didn't have so much work to do. Anyone who thinks this is an underdog movie should be laughed out of the room, but the fact remains that we take these characters seriously, and derive most of our enjoyment just from their interactions. And those characters include a talking tree and raccoon. But then, Marvel always seems to do its best work when their heroes are hard sells (“Thor” and “Captain America”) and their worst when their heroes are practically gift-wrapped to appeal (“Wolverine” and the rather mixed record of the “X-Men” movies). A sequel has not only been approved, it has a release date for July of 2017. It can't come soon enough.