A rag-tag bunch of space criminals are forced together to save a planet from a megalomaniac trying to get his hands on one of the Infinity Stones.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn & Nicole Perlman

So much of the build up to the last two Avengers movies gets kicked off in earnest here, which makes it a little surprising that it’s taken me five years to finally sit down and watch this movie. The fact that pretty much no one knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were before this movie came out proves the power and popularity of Marvel’s movie franchise.

I’ve spent five years hearing people exclaim how great the movie is, extolling the virtues of the character work and how fun the whole thing is. And the movie comes through for the most part. It’s a crime caper in space, with a bunch of rejects who have high levels of self-importance coming together to stop Ronan the Accuser from destroying the planet Xandar.

The film feels like what a Han Solo movie should have been, with high-stakes space battles with some wacky hi-jinx between odd personalities. I’m sure the success of this movie helped with the development of Solo, proving that audiences could get behind an interstellar film centered around a guy without powers or a moral compass. Marvel Studios, though, has Kevin Feige at the helm, and his guiding influence over the Marvel Cinematic Universe has definitely produced a better track record of films over the last decade than the Star Wars side of things.

Our Han Solo stand-in is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an Earthling who was abducted from the planet right after his mother died in the mid-1980s. He’s brash, sarcastic and doesn’t look before he leaps into a dangerous situation. He also doesn’t seem to have any loyalties to the aliens who took him in. Of course, that means he needs to learn how to work together with the various bounty hunters and murderers who start the film by looking to take him out.

Outside of the part he played in the ensemble of Parks & Recreation, I’ve never really cared for Pratt. Andy Dwyer is great when he’s relegated to the B- or C-plot of a half-hour sitcom, but the movie’s whole two-hour runtime revolves around him, and all he’s really doing is playing a buffed-up, slightly smarter version of Andy. It gets a little grating, even though the film tries mightily to increase his likability by tying the movie’s outstanding soundtrack to the Walkman he carries with him at all times. Having Pratt do his thing while “Hooked On A Feeling” or “Come and Get Your Love” is blasting helps a little bit, but it doesn’t completely wipe away the total dislike I’ve developed for the actor.

Thankfully, Pratt is surrounded by a great team of actors who not only help to prop him up but also make sure jokes actually land to ensure that the movie is funny. The interactions between Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are fun throughout the movie. This is easily my favorite Vin Diesel role, and all he says throughout the film is “I am Groot.”

The real standout of the film, though, is Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound, slightly dim-witted guy looking for revenge on Ronan and his manipulator, Thanos, for killing his wife and daughter. Bautista plays Drax with such a great dead-panned delivery that it’s almost to impossible to not laugh when he’s on screen.

Overall, Guardians is a fun way to spend a couple of hours, though I’m not sure I see the greatness in the film that others do. But introducing far-flung civilizations into the Marvel Cinematic Universe paid off well for the studio, so overall, it’s probably a win.

Now that I’ve seen Guardians, I’ve watched all but six of the 23 movies Marvel has released since 2008. I’ll eventually get around to seeing the others…