'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Review: Marvel Soars Into Space With Sci-Fi Excellence

I'm still trying to figure out how Guardians of the Galaxy works. It's a movie set in an unfamiliar universe, it introduces several new characters with diverse backstories on numerous worlds, and features a talking raccoon, a fighting tree, familial death, and multiple villains, all set to seventies and eighties pop music. On paper, there's no way the movie should work. But not only did writer/director James Gunn find the perfect mix to make it work, Guardians of the Galaxy soars. All of those elements marry each other just right to tell a singular, direct and entertaining story. Along the way there's room for jaw-dropping and innovative action, beautiful visuals, robust characterizations and more laughs than probably all the other Marvel movies combined. Yes, Marvel has another winner in Guardians of the Galaxy. Read the rest of our Guardians of the Galaxy review below.

In its first three scenes, the varied tone of Guardians of the Galaxy is instantly set. There's an emotional, heartbreaking first scene, followed by a surprising and wacky second scene and then a cool, Indiana Jones style action scene. Those are the three main components of the film. As the story presses on, all three of those tones are interlocked in a beautiful balance. Things never get too emotional without a joke. Things never get too action packed without some heart, and nothing's excessively comic at the expense of action.

The story focuses on the five main characters, and the way in which these radically different beings form a bond. Each character – Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) – is given just enough back story and setup that they have specific personality goals to achieve over the course of the film. Rocket Raccoon has an inferiority complex, Gamora has daddy issues, Star Lord has mommy issues. Even though they're comic book badasses, everyone is flawed and vulnerable in some way. Those character pay-offs, in tandem with the story pay-offs, give the film numerous chill-inducing moments.

In particular, the three actors who actually appear on screen shine in the movie. Pratt is a worthwhile and formidable hero, Saldana is a vexing foil and Bautista is the perfect straight man. Throw in two hugely charismatic CG creations (each excellent in their own way) and no matter who is the center of any particular scene, it's exciting and enjoyable.

A lot of that also comes from the fact the film is infused with the sensibilities of James Gunn's previous work. The whole film teems with sly dialogue, funny asides and dark humor. There's even a joke about bodily fluids in the movie (not that one or that one. THAT one), all of which give Guardians a rewarding unpredictability.

This is the first time Gunn has been given a huge canvas and he embraces it. Every action scene feels like it's crafted by someone who has finally been set loose to create ideas they've dreamt of for years. Each action scene has something you probably haven't seen before, which is pretty awesome. Scenes like thousands of ships combining to form a mesh barricade or Star Lord piloting one ship, while still inside another ship, make the film feel like the biggest action film of the summer.

But really, what holds Guardians of the Galaxy together is its humanity. Sure there's lots of action and humor but it's the quiet moments, the pauses, the knowing glances, that make the experience feel so wonderful. That humanity (or whatever passes for humanity when talking about Rocket and Groot) grounds an otherwise fantastic movie as something we can all relate to.

If there's anything negative to say about the film it's that Gunn has made a Disney movie. It rides the line of its PG-13 rating content wise but never demands much of the audience. There's very little subtext or subtlety. Very few beats aren't laid out to easily digest, save for some of those quiet pauses. Not that a movie like this needs them, but with such a diverse cast of characters and locations a hint of deeper meaning would have enhanced the story.

Anyway, I could gush endlessly about the good things in Guardians of the Galaxy and that's probably why it works. Pretty much every single element, no matter how crazy or simple, explodes off the screen into a wholly satisfying, entertaining theatrical experience. It might just be my favorite Marvel movie to date.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10