By refusing to follow the usual formula, filmmaker James Gunn has made Marvel's best-yet movie, a summer action-adventure that provides more cinematic fun than the rest of the year's blockbusters rolled into one. It's shamelessly entertaining, keeping the focus on sparky characters even as the action spirals into exhilarating set-pieces around them. And the best thing is that the film isn't actually about the big plot: it's about a group of people who should hate each other but instead come together as a team.
In a pre-logo sequence set in 1988 America, a young boy is kidnapped by aliens. Some 25 years later, Peter (Chris Pratt) has become an ace thief who roams the galaxy in search of cash. Curious and charming, he can get himself out of most scrapes, but when he collects a mysterious orb for a client he ends up as the target of two bounty hunters, the raccoon-like Rocket and tree-like Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). And the villainously destructive Ronan (Lee Pace) sends his best fighter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to get the orb for his own nefarious plan. Rounded up and thrown into prison, Peter, Gamora, Rocket and Groot stage a daring escape with the help of literal-minded muscleman Drax (Dave Bautista), then must work together to deal with this troublesome orb. So they contact Peter's mentor/nemesis Yondu (Michael Rooker) before taking on Ronan and his second-best fighter, Gamora's half-cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).
Gunn gives the film a look and tone unlike anything in the Marvel universe, with colourful ships, sassy humour and freewheeling action that propels the story and deepens the character at the same time. It also makes the most of the well-worn 1980s mixtape Peter uses as his own personal soundtrack. It's the kind of riotously thrill ride that makes us hold on for dear life, loving every twist and turn. And since it's so tightly focused on the characters, the action plot involving the orb merely adds texture around the edges. As do terrific actors like Glenn Close and John C. Reilly in small but pivotal roles.
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