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Guardians of the Galaxy: A funny, smart space epic

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I had more fun watching Guardians of the Galaxy than I've had in a long time. It's a wild space adventure from Marvel Studios that, at various times, reminded me of Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Last Starfighter, The Fifth Element, Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity, and more. It's action-packed, funny and full of heart. At times it stumbles over its overstuffed storylines, but that's easy to deal with — just stay focused on the Guardians.

The Guardians are a rag-tag group of prisoners including Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who would very much like to be known as Star-Lord. Seconds after his mother's death from cancer in 1988, he was abducted from Earth by an alien spacecraft. His only personal possessions are a mix-tape of hit tunes from his youth and an unopened package from his mother. The film picks up on some distant planet, 26 years after the abduction, as Quill gets into big trouble.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the rebellious daughter of a major bad guy. Drax the Destroyer (WWE champ Dave Bautista) is an elaborately-tattooed brute who takes everything literally. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a genetically-altered being that looks like a raccoon. Finally, there's Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a sentient tree. His vocabulary appears limited to three words, with two variations during a key moment.

Pratt sets the tone of the film. He can be both a lost boy in need of rescue and the swashbuckling hero that does the rescuing. By example, he helps his teammates be better souls. Pratt's innate decency is the heart of Guardians of the Galaxy.

As for the plot: Quill comes into possession of a MacGuffin (noun: an object or device in a movie or a book that exists to drive the plot). That's all I need to cover here. If you're a Marvel Movie Universe enthusiast, you already know all the ins and outs. If you're not, just enjoy watching Quill and his comrades learn how to use their criminal skills for the greater good. And savor the groovy tunes, the jokes and bonding moments.

About the jokes — I won't spoil anything, but I will say this: if you don't know who Jackson Pollock is, look him up.

Director James Gunn (Super) offers a colorful universe with gleaming futuristic cities (a la The Fifth Element and countless covers of sci-fi paperbacks) along with the requisite grim spots. To the film's credit, when a battle breaks out over a city, it appears that the goal is to actually try to avoid destroying the place. Refreshing.

When Quill first comes upon the MacGuffin, he describes it as having an "Ark of the Covenant/Maltese Falcon vibe." Making remarks like that is risky, and Guardians of the Galaxy could easily have fallen on its face, a victim of its own cheekiness. But it doesn't — not at all — and how great is that?

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