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Putting the comic' back in comic book movie'

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'Guardians of the Galaxy' hilarious and visually spectacular

There's no arguing the fact that the folks at Marvel are masters of their cinematic domain right now. They are churning out blockbuster after blockbuster their superheroic properties are proving to be some of the biggest box office cash cows in movie history.

But one assumes that someday, the bubble will burst.

The cynical among us might have predicted that 'Guardians of the Galaxy' might be the needle that popped the balloon, the first tumbling domino ahead of the crash. After all, 'Guardians' is a C-list property at best a series unfamiliar to casual fans and bearing only a tenuous connection to the Marvel Cinematic Universe that the company has spent the past few years painstakingly constructing.

It would be difficult for a prediction to be more wrong.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' centers on the brash, cocksure adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, 'The Lego Movie') also known as Star-Lord. He's a displaced Earthling who has become a spacefaring scavenger of sorts, bending and occasionally breaking the law in order to procure certain types of items for certain unsavory types of buyers.

But when he steals a mysterious orb, he becomes the focus of a widespread bounty hunt. Said orb is coveted by some of the galaxy's most powerful beings, including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'), a fanatic whose ambitions threaten the universe itself.

Along the way, Quill winds up left with no choice but to align himself with an unlikely and motley crew. There's Gamora (Zoe Saldana, 'Out of the Furnace'), a deadly assassin with ties to not only Ronan, but other, even deadlier entities; Drax (Dave Bautista, 'Riddick'), a maniacal fighter who seeks vengeance for the death of his family; Rocket (Bradley Cooper, 'American Hustle'), a wisecracking, gun-toting, genetically modified raccoon; and Groot (Vin Diesel, 'Riddick'), an immensely strong humanoid tree.

When they discover the true power held by the orb, this unlikely team must come together and rally against the forces of evil. Basically, all they have to do is defeat one of the most powerful forces in the cosmos while the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

Let's just get this out of the way right off the top: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is good. Really good.

The choice of a lesser known property turned out to be an inspired move; the flexibility granted in terms of both style and tone allow for a movie that while undeniably a Marvel product is considerably different than any other offering to date.

For instance, 'Guardians' is a comedy - an action comedy, yes, but a comedy nevertheless. While previous Marvel installments have certainly had their moments of humor, none of them could be called a comedy. This movie can. There are jokes honest to God jokes and situational humor abounds. And director James Gunn (who also co-wrote the screenplay) wields the humor well, even finding ways to insert it into otherwise tense and dramatic moments without detracting from the overall impact of those moments. Marvel was due for a comedy and 'Guardians' delivers.

The cast goes a long way toward making the whole package work. Pratt is absolutely fantastic as Peter Quill; it's like he takes the goofy charm of his Andy Dwyer character from 'Parks and Recreation' and dumps it into Han Solo. He's joyful in his jerkiness, hilariously funny and proves more than capable of carrying more serious scenes. Saldana is a nice fit as Gamora; she's one of the more engaging female characters that Marvel has given us and Saldana does her justice. Bautista is surprisingly effective as Drax. The role suits his limited range; if he plays his cards right, he might just be able to follow the Hollywood path laid out by former WWE colleague The Rock.

Cooper and Diesel are clearly having a lot of fun. Granted, Cooper's work as Rocket can occasionally feel like a bit too much, but that may well be the fault of the screenwriters. Diesel doesn't have a lot of variety in his dialogue, but I couldn't help but be reminded of his long-ago turn as The Iron Giant. Still, their two voices balanced nicely. Pace is the only guy playing it completely straight, which serves as a nice contrast against the rest.

And I would be remiss in not mentioning the strong ensemble, featuring luminaries such as Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker and an unbilled (for good spoiler-avoiding reasons) Josh Brolin in roles of varying shapes and sizes.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' was an outside-the-box choice by Marvel; a huge gamble that paid off handsomely. It is epic space opera and well-constructed comedy, a visually stunning experience driven by exceptional performances. It is also the most fun I've had at the movies all summer long.

[5 out of 5]

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