Say what you will about the whole Marvel package—I don’t know the last time I’ve had a blockbuster as nutty as Guardians of the Galaxy thrown at me, but the grand knitting of the cinematic comic-book universe makes this messy bundle of joy a breeze to watch. This weekend, millions of Americans will file into theaters to watch a zapped-out space opera where a talking raccoon is arguably your second lead, and they’ll eat it right up. Yes, there’s plenty of baffling talk of Kree fanatics and Infinity Gems and what have you, and the beating heart of the movie is a walking tree who can only say one thing, but Guardians of the Galaxy is so crisply-made and sharply funny that you immediately forgive any confusion.
Much of the credit for that should be laid at the feet of inventive writer/director James Gunn (who scripted alongside Nicole Perlman), a canny choice by Marvel to steer this unusual franchise to success. Unlike the costumed heroes of The Avengers, the Guardians are mostly unknown to the moviegoing public and do their adventuring in outer space among disparate alien races. There’s a lot of explaining to get through in this movie, and some of it barely seems relevant—but this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If it doesn’t seem relevant now, it’s probably going to play some part later. There’s a reason we meet the giant purple villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) here even though he’s only dimly connected to the main plot. It surely won’t be the last time we see him.
Gunn gets through a lot of storytelling as quickly as possible, and some of it’s a rush job. It’s never really clear why the wonderfully-named villain Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) wants to blow up a particular planet, nor why two of Thanos’ assassin daughters (Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillen) are in his employ. It doesn’t really matter. Ronan is up to no good, and he is interested in a silver orb that space-scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) just rumbled from a distant planet. Quill is a displaced human whose abduction we witness in the opening minutes and now makes low-level trouble across the universe. He’s here to grab us by the collar and whisk us through this dizzying, but incredibly satisfying escapade, and Pratt, from his first second on-screen, proves he’s more than up to it.