Maybe you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel comic franchise that wilts in the shadows while Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers get all the love. Maybe you think a big-ass movie about wanna-be Marvel icons isn't worth your time.
Snap out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy does the impossible. Through dazzle and dumb luck, it turns the clichés of comic-book films on their idiot heads and hits you like an exhilarating blast of fun-fun-fun. It's insanely, shamelessly silly – just one reason to love it.
Another is the up-for-anything cast. Chris Pratt is blissfully right as Peter Quill, who calls himself the Star Lord, mostly because no one else will. Since age nine, when he was zapped from Earth into space after the death of his mother, Peter has been bounty-hunting around the cosmos in the corrupt employ of blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker).
If you're a fan of Pratt as chubby Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation or as the voice of Emmet in The Lego Movie or in supporting roles in smart movies such as Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, you'll want to catch him here. Whether he's busting funky dance moves to the 1970s oldies songs on his late mom's cassette player (he kills it on "O-o-h Child") or showing his chops as a space warrior, Pratt nails every beat in the role – comedy, drama, action and six-pack-baring stud appeal. Want to see Pratt become a full-fledged movie star? This is where it happens.
All praise to director James Gunn, the creative force behind the little-seen but muchadmired Slither and Super, for making his first epic an epic treat. The twisty script Gunn wrote with Nicole Perlman tests Peter's mettle with an impossible task: Collect major bucks and, oh yeah, save the galaxy by stealing a mysterious orb back from the evil Ronan (Lee Pace), who wants to use the orb's beyond-nuclear power for, well, the usual reasons.
Of course, Peter needs help, which he gets, reluctantly, from four loser misfits, much like himself. Zoe Saldana defines seductive stealth as Gamora, the green-skinned assassin that Peter hits on despite his rep for sleeping with enemy aliens. "That was one time," Peter objects.
WWE wrestling champ Dave Bautista brings ferocity and feeling to Drax the Destroyer, the tattooed hulk who wants to crush Ronan for killing his wife and daughter.
The real scene-stealers are computer-generated. Those who've always dismissed Vin Diesel as a wooden actor will get a kick out of hearing him voice the role of Groot, a walking tree whose one line of dialogue is "I am Groot." Diesel gets the last laugh, since he wrings those three words for unexpected humor and heart.
Top dog or, in this case, top rodent is Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, a growling, gun-slinging raccoon given to mouthing off at his fellow guardians. While giving surprising depth to this genetically altered raccoon, Cooper has a ball taking the piss out of friends and foes who mistake Rocket for a candy-ass cartoon.
You'll have a ball too. Guardians of the Galaxy is crowded with characters and incidents that sometimes spill over into confusion and chaos. Still, this orphan child of the Marvel universe possesses a wild-card energy and a throwaway charm that its bloated bigger-budget brothers should envy. Even a sequel doesn't inspire dread. Should the Guardians take on the Avengers? Hell, yeah!