Guardians of the Galaxy is the blockbuster I've been waiting all summer for and, in a way, all my life for. Here it is, finally: a B-movie with a huge budget and a whip-smart sense of humor. The grim tone that far too many franchises have taken as of late is almost completely absent in this giddy cinematic thrill ride.
Chris Pratt simply could not be any better as Peter Quill, a human thief who treks across planets looking for valuable artifacts to plunder. Like Andy, the character he plays on NBC's Parks and Recreation, Quill has more confidence than talent at all he does, and he's skated by on that for years.
But his latest conquest has caught the attention of all sorts of interested parties, including the boss he double-crossed, the intergalactic police and several people connected to Ronan, a bloodthirsty alien. Despite being committed to the role, Lee Pace is all wrong for this part. He's much more suited to play a smartass like Quill. Still, he provides enough menace to make the danger believable.
Through a comical series of misunderstandings, Quill winds up in prison with Gamora (a mysterious warrior played by Zoe Saldana), Rocket (a gun-toting raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (Rocket's tree-like enforcer, voiced by Vin Diesel), and Drax (a lug-head with vengeance on his mind played by wrestler Dave Bautista). What makes this band of misfits so great to watch is that they've all been given a personality. Some of those traits are one-note, but the actors all give them more shading than we've seen with any other superhero team thus far.
And more than any of Marvel's output, Guardians maintains an irreverent tone throughout. Rocket and Drax, previously enemies, bond over a shared love of booze. Quill diffuses one showdown with a bad guy by challenging him to a dance-off. And the soundtrack, instead of being filled with overly dramatic strings or trendy indie-rock bands, opts for '70s soft rock.
Even though it's a raucous good time, the movie is not without its flaws. The third act is essentially a retread of The Avengers, complete with alien warships resembling a swarm of insects and the biggest member of the group going toe-to-toe with the big bad. Plus, it commits the heinous cinematic crime of wasting six-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close. She plays the thankless role of Nova Prime, the intergalactic police captain.
Still, this is a gleeful anti-establishment blockbuster, one that can and should shake up the status quo. There's a sequel already planned for 2017 with the core group intact. I'm willing to follow them to the other end of the galaxy.