I am Groot!

Shouldn't he be wearing a helmet?

Shouldn't he be wearing a helmet?

Rated 5.0

Guardians of the Galaxy is a goofy, dazzling, often hilarious convergence of inspired nuttiness. You’ll probably hear comparisons to the original Star Wars, The Fifth Element and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and all of those comparisons would be plausible. It’s a blessedly new and crazy direction for the Marvel universe, and director James Gunn (Super, Slither) has taken a huge step towards the A-list.

Also taking a giant leap towards the upper echelon of Hollywood royalty is Chris Pratt, who mixes great charm, rugged action hero bravado and premium comic timing as Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord. After a prologue that shows the Earthly origins of his character, Pratt sets the tone for the movie during the opening credits, grooving to his cassette-playing Sony Walkman on an alien planet and using squirrelly little critters as stand-in microphones.

After unknowingly stealing a relic that could have the power to take down the entire universe, Quill finds himself in serious trouble. Events lead to his joining forces with a genetically enhanced Raccoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a gigantic tree person thing named Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a muscle-bound angry alien named Drax (Dave Bautista) and an ass-kicking green woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana).

Together, they become the Guardians of the Galaxy, an unlikely troupe of mischievous outcasts that plays like the Avengers meets the Marx Brothers. Well, if the Marx Brothers had a green sister. Hey, it’s a decent comparison. Quill is Groucho, Rocket is Chico and Groot is Harpo. Groot only has one line, “I am Groot!” while Harpo only had the honking horn. I’d say Gamora is Zeppo, but that would be slagging on Gamora.

The cast, buoyed by a spirited script co-written by Gunn, keeps things zippy and always funny. Visually, the movie is a tremendous feat of special and makeup effects. If you see it in 3-D, you’ll be happy with the results, because every shot of this movie seems meticulously constructed to benefit the medium. As for the makeup, just as much energy has been put into the practical effects as the digital work.

Michael Rooker, playing bad guy Yondu, looks especially cool with his blue skin and ragged yellow teeth. Josh Brolin shows up briefly as Thanos, a major villain in the Marvel universe, while the likes of John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro also chip in.

With her presence here, and her work in Star Trek and Avatar, Saldana has officially inherited the Queen of Science Fiction mantle from Sigourney Weaver—and, let’s admit it, she’s incredibly hot when she’s blue or green. Pratt establishes his leading man status here, something that could be fully cemented with his turn in a Jurassic Park sequel next year.

While Guardians is a terrific visual spectacle, it also packs an emotional punch. Rocket delivers a speech about alienation that’s far more moving than anything you’d expect to see in a movie like this, while Quill’s mommy issues also fuel some surprising emotional moments. The cast does some real acting, with Cooper’s feat being especially impressive in that we only hear his voice. Heck, even Vin Diesel packs a sentimental punch in the many ways he delivers his “I am Groot!” line.

It must be noted that the use of classic rock on the soundtrack is a brilliant touch. Quill’s old school Walkman, which is still working decades after he left Earth, churns out the hits like “Hooked on a Feeling, “Moonage Daydream” and “Cherry Bomb.” Like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese before him, Gunn is quite adept at using great music in unexpected places.

Note for note, Guardians of the Galaxy rivals Edge of Tomorrow and Godzilla for the summer’s best blockbusters. As for its place in the Marvel universe, I’m going to put it right alongside The Avengers as the company’s best. A sequel has already been greenlit for 2017, so this blissfully bizarre story shall continue.