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There is a temptation to compare Guardians of the Galaxy to the more recent Marvel movies, like Avengers or Captain America: Winter Soldier, but that’s not fair. This film represents a major step forward for Marvel Studios as a whole, for multiple reasons.

No Marvel movie has started as strongly as Guardians of Galaxy or has been this entertaining this quickly. Most Marvel movies have been stuck establishing a backstory for characters that we already know while fighting terrible budget restrictions. (Oh, Spiderman got his powers from a radioactive spider bite! Well that was an hour well spent!)  Also, because Marvel has made a practice of hiring cheaper but talented writer/directors that are accustomed to much smaller productions, the action scenes have suffered at the expense of acting and plot. When is the last time you heard that?

While director James Gunn does occasionally struggle filming the combat scenes, Guardians has almost none of those problems. It accomplishes what few summer films have ever done.

It charms.

This entire movie is charismatic. It’s a comedy, but it’s not slight because Gunn is smart enough to know that you don’t tear down your characters to create the comedy. (Let me put it this way, once Freddy Krueger became a wise-cracker, you weren’t scared of him anymore and the movies didn’t mean as much.) The people in Guardians of the Galaxy are mostly humanoid and speak English, but most of this film’s humor is based on them miscommunicating with each other, because they are aliens, after all.

Guardians of the Galaxy is about Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a young boy whose mom dies of cancer the same night he is abducted by aliens. While they are supposed to take him to his father, (who is never revealed, but is not human) he is instead adopted by a band of pirates known as Ravagers led by the surprisingly lethal Yondu Udonta (the incomparable Henry Rooker).


Decades later, he doublecrosses Youdu to deliver an unknown orb to The Broker. He runs afoul of men he doesn’t recognize, not knowing that they are agents of Ronan (Lee Pace, who should have had more screen time) a powerful alien terrorist, angry about a recently signed treaty. Ronan is working for Thanos (Josh Brolin) a villain with two ‘daughters’ Nebula (Karen Gillan showing some serious range) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) neither of whom are particularly faithful to him.


Gamora is sent to find Quill and retrieve the orb. Quill is the subject of a bounty issued by Youdu, and so is the target of bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and man-tree Groot (Vin Diesel). They all meet at the same time and end up in jail where they meet the maniacal and hulking Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his family. And the good times start there. The Orb contains an Infinity Gem, a compressed piece of incalculable power from the begining of the universe that can be manipulated by especially hardy users and everybody wants it, and is willing to do anything to get it.

As a service to non-comic fans I need to provide context, possession of all six Infinity gems gives the user near omnipotence. Thanos eventually collects the gems, triggering a superhero war where he is attacked by every superhero at once in a battle to save the universe. As an event comic, it was spectacular and Marvel is building their movies to this point.


Guardians of the Galaxy is genuinely funny, very clever, unexpectedly touching, and incredibly absorbing. Gunn’s genius centers on the Walkman that Chris Pratt treasures, loaded with a single cassette of his mother’s favorite music. Plenty of movies have given us weird aliens and cosmic scenery, but they couldn’t figure out how to make us care about them. Whenever things get too out there, Gunn has a familiar oldie playing, which has the effect of making the audience completely accept whatever it is that he is showing.

This is a movie with a talking raccoon that shoots guns, a mining colony inside a giant alien’s head, a foppish Collector character with a fur coat, seductive pink women and a giant tree-man, Glenn Close’s haircut and James Gunn gets the audience to go along with him, because he plays an old Bowie song. If you want to know why movies like John Carter or Battleship flopped, or if you have a summer movie coming up, this should be a tutorial in how to make it work.

I suppose its greed talking, but if this is the first movie, I can’t even fathom how good the sequel is going to be.