Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, John C. Reilly, Djimon Honsou, Michael Rooker, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace and Glenn Close
Studio: Marvel/Disney
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2 Hrs., 1 Min.

The summer of 2014 has been pretty underwhelming movie-wise. While I’ve seen a few excellent films (X-Men Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, How To Train Your Dragon 2), one I shamefully tolerated (Transformers 4: Age of Extinction) I’ve seen plenty that were so disappointing, flat and uninspired that I couldn’t dig up the slightest scrap of inspiration to write about them. And I haven’t been alone; it seems Hollywood and moviegoers alike have spent more time and energy looking forward to next summer then enjoying what this one has had to offer. I’ve found myself pining for last summer more then once, because while 2013 had more then its fair share of low points, it had far more high ones then 2014 so far. Fortunately, a movie based on a virtually unknown comic book property and staring B-listers and unknowns in the starring roles has finally given this summer a fun, bona fide popcorn movie that all movie fans should see on the big screen. Twice.

Abducted from Earth as a small boy by a band of intergalactic criminals known as Ravagers, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) becomes a petty crook and shameless womanizer, stealing treasure and hearts on a dozen worlds. Hired to steal a relic from the ruins of a long dead world, Quill soon finds himself caught up in the machinations of interstellar governments and intergalactic warlords while on the run from bounty hunters and even former employers. As a result he finds himself thrown together with a disparate band of misfits and outlaws that dub themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy and are soon at odds with the fanatical Kree conqueror Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) in a struggle that spans worlds, space prisons and even a dead star god’s dismembered head.

Marvel raised more then a few eyebrows a few years ago when they announced that Guardians of the Galaxy was the next original property coming to the big screen. Even the most hardcore comic book fan had to look these guys up and the absence of any big names attached to the film in leading roles generated a lot of doubt among the Hollywood crowd. Turns out The House of Ideas knew what it was doing. Guardians is fun, plain and simple, and more importantly its fun on a big, bright scale. This is what 2011’s The Green Lantern and the Star Wars prequels should have been (paying attention J.J. Abrams?). It’s a perfect blend of action and comedy in an original and exciting sci-fi universe with a killer nostalgia soundtrack. This is one of those fun flicks where you’re too busy enjoying it and soaking up all the awesome to notice the occasional holes in the plot.

And the best thing about Guardians? The cast. GOTG doesn’t lack for sizeable names in the credits, with the Oscar winning and nominated likes of Glen Close, John C. Reilly and Djimon Honsou on the payroll, but they’re all in supporting roles. Yes, Glen Close is not only in a Marvel sci-fi/comic book movie, but she’s in it as a supporting player. Benicio Del Toro pops up for a few minutes to reprise his role as Taneleer The Collector from last November’s Thor: The Dark World’s post credits scene, but he’s on screen for maybe five minutes. The leading roles are populated by virtual unknowns or actors usually found in supporting roles. They do have Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, but only as voices for a CGI generated raccoon and a sentient tree. Chris Pratt, a relative unknown as far as leading men go, fills Peter “Star Lord” Quill with a roguish charm that matures through the film. And Marvel’s true genius with this casting is that after this, Pratt will be in big demand (he’s already attached to next year’s Jurassic World in the leading role) but like Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman before him, Marvel signed Pratt to a multi-film deal based on his pre-star worth. Zoe Saldana makes the genetically enhanced assassin Gamora a perfect foil to Pratt’s incorrigible Quill (as well as his conscience and love interest), while WWE superstar Dave Bautista makes the vengeance driven Drax The Destroyer into an imposing beast that speaks with Shakespearian flair. Vin Diesel manages to pack more emotion into the phrase “I am Groot” then most actors emote in a dozen pages of dialogue and Bradley Cooper makes the gun toting, action loving Rocket the Raccoon into the film’s most loveable character.

In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best popcorn movie of the summer and deserves to rule 2014’s summer box office (yes, more than T4), and will likely launch yet another massive property for Marvel and Disney (hints at the inevitable-and hopeful-sequels are dropped a number of times). Guardians will remind you why summer is supposed to be best time of year to head out to your local cinema, and hopefully the rest of Hollywood is paying attention so we wind up with fewer summertime duds.

Shayne Kempton

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