Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Based on the comic by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
In a way, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most un-Marvel movie so far. Not in a sense of tone, but in a sense of location. Earth is barely onscreen for 3 minutes, there's no familiar characters around (besides a couple minor ones, two of which appeared in credits scenes before), and the characters are aliens and rogues—decidedly not super, and barely qualifying as heroic. And all of this makes it stand out higher in Marvel's universe.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a rogue-type who discovers an orb that he thinks is just a normal artifact, but it ends up attracting the attention of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and his Kree army. Peter has to team up with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and the alien-tree Groot (Vin Diesel) to figure out what the orb is and stop it from getting into Ronan's hands.
The comparisons between the Guardians themselves and the Avengers are obvious. After all, the worst the Avengers have is Tony Stark, who's deeply sarcastic but still heroic. The Guardians practically define the ragtag group of misfits, constantly at odds with each other in their goals and morally. They seem like any minute they're just going to turn and kill each other. When the Avengers fight like that, it's a tense atmosphere. When the Guardians fight, it's closer to hilarious. The focus on humor here is big, and there's plenty of bickering remarks as they butt heads, held together by some fine acting all around. Zoe Saldana is still in her niche of “no-nonsense badass”, but it works all the better when she's surrounded by nonsense. Bradley Cooper takes the role of a bitter talking raccoon as seriously as he can, cracking plenty of jokes while showing the small shades of his backstory when you least expect it. And Chris Pratt swaggers on-screen in an opening scene that defines his role better than anything: a quiet trip into a ruin that then turns into Pratt dancing and kicking space-rats to Come And Get Your Love.
The atmosphere here ties things together. It plays to pure sci-fi. The pristine planet which holds the galactic police corps Nova, the space jail filled with tough aliens that the Guardians have to break out of. And then it plays to the Marvel universe's bigger weirdness with a planet which is actually the head of a long-dead giant alien. If you want the 101 to Marvel Cosmic, this is it: there may be a talking raccoon, but you're still getting an honest love of science fiction that's just done without boundaries. Space battles are huge and fun. An early fight over the orb is humorous while also showing off plenty of sci-fi tech. The CGI is flawless, from the spaceships to Rocket's smaller details and expressions making him actually look like a raccoon is just walking around with a giant gun.
Guardians is another winner in Marvel's line-up (big surprise), but it's also a huge dose of sci-fi fun. It goes over the top and then some, and it never pauses and says “Should we back off?”, but instead just looks to entertain as much as possible.