Guardians of the Galaxy (4 stars)

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.

Guardians of the Galaxy (trailer)

Guardians of the Galaxy

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: James Gunn
  • Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
  • UK release: 31 July 2014

When space adventurer Peter Quill (Pratt) finds himself sharing a prison cell with assassin Gamora (Saldana), genetically-modified bounty-hunting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and other crims, they must face power-hungry evildoer Ronan (Pace). With a gag-stuffed script, lively direction and outstanding performances…