Guardians of the Galaxy
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper star in triumphant addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Based on little known comic-book characters, Guardians of the Galaxy represents something of a leap of faith for Marvel Studios, especially since the film's ties to the all-conquering Avengers franchise are largely superficial, consisting only of brief appearances by characters that were previously teased in post-credits stings.
Happily, Guardians looks set to do just fine on its own, delivering thrills and laughs in equal measure and launching a potential stand-alone franchise that recalls films like Joss Whedon's Serenity, or Roger Corman's cheerful Star Wars rip-off Battle Beyond the Stars.
Directed by James Gunn, the film stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, an Earth-born space adventurer going by the name of Star-Lord, who's attacked by green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after he steals a silver orb in a Raiders-referencing sequence. When Peter and Gamora's very public fight is joined by a bounty-hunting genetically modified raccoon called Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his arboreal sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the quartet land themselves in prison, where they meet rage-driven man-mountain Drax (ex-WWE wrestler Dave Bautista).
After a daring prison break, the rag-tag quintet realise that the orb is capable of destroying planets and that they must work together to prevent it from falling into the hands of power-hungry evil-doer Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).
The script (from Gunn and Nicole Perlman) is stuffed full of great gags and pop culture references (there's a priceless Footloose joke), while giving each of the characters a chance to shine. In addition, Gunn's direction is lively and colourful throughout and the performances are note-perfect, with Pratt firmly establishing himself as leading man material and Bautista proving an unexpected scene-stealer. There's even a terrific 70s and 80s soundtrack, courtesy of the mix-tape in Peter's beloved Sony Walkman. As details like that suggest, Guardians is enormous fun from beginning to end.
General release from Thu 31 Jul.