"Guardians of the Galaxy" is the film moviegoers have been waiting for all summer.
"Godzilla" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" featured action, but they just didn't have the energy that makes summer popcorn movies pop. The other big hope, "Transformers: Age of Extinction," twisted and turned itself into a painfully long, convoluted mess.
There are no such problems with "Guardians." It's "Star Wars" meets "Farscape" — a fun ride driven by top-notch performances, a galaxy of funny moments and a wicked soundtrack.
It's the latest film based on a Marvel Comics series. But even if you don't know the difference between "Iron Man" and "Iron Fist," the blend of action and humor provides plenty of entertainment.
The "Guardians" are a ragtag team of thieves who get tossed together to battle a threat to the planet Xander and the galactic defense group, Nova Corps, that's based there. The threat comes in the form of Ronan (Lee Pace) — a minion of supervillain Thanos — who is looking for an ancient artifact that would become one of the biggest threats to the universe.
After being imprisoned for a variety of crimes, the five reluctant heroes launch a plan to stop Ronan.
What sets this film apart from the less effective summer movies is that director James Gunn has put together a cast that can handle the action and the humor. They sell both the massive battle scenes and the laughs from pop culture references and metaphors.
The leader, Peter Quill (who also goes by the name Star-Lord) is played with pitch perfection by Chris Pratt. He's a man lost in time, kidnapped when he was a youngster, who has grown up among the stars. His only link to the past is a mix-tape his mother made that features some of the most iconic songs of the 1980s.
With a mix of the dry wit of Hans Solo and the smugness of Tony Stark, Pratt gives the movie the kind of flawed hero on which many a film franchise has been built. He is as quick with a quip as he is with a weapon.
The supporting cast is the best since "The Avengers." Zoe Saldana is both alluring and scary as super-assassin Gamora, and Dave Bautista shows both a heavy punch in fights and a light touch with the dry humor. It seems strange that well-known actors were hired to handle the CGI characters of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), but both characters manage to convey a bevy of emotions.
As far as flaws, the first 15 minutes are a little confusing — especially for those who can't quote the comic book chapter and verse — but if you stick with it, all of the muddled pieces come together. Also, the casting of Glenn Close to play the head of Nova Corps comes across more as an anomaly than a help to the movie.
Those are only minor nitpicks. "Guardians of the Galaxy" has finally kicked the summer movie season into high gear. It took awhile, but it was worth the wait.
"Guardians of the Galaxy," rated PG-13 for language, action scenes, adult humor. Stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel. Directed by James Gunn. Running time: 121 minutes. Grade: A-