Guardians of the Galaxy a mirthful marvel of Marvel’s

With Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel movie juggernaut continues onward – and in this case upward. At the helm is director James Gunn, a Troma Films alumnus (!) and co-screenwriter (with Nicole Perlman), and he brings a jaunty, playful quality to the proceedings that is well nigh irresistible.

Since Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t as etched in pop-culture as Iron Man, Spider- Man, Captain America or Thor, the film can operate at its own bubble-gum wavelength while remaining attuned – more or less – to the comic book’s original spirit.

The titular superheroes here are a motley bunch of inter-stellar misfits. Chris Pratt plays token Earthling Peter Quill, who fancies himself “Star-Lord” (although no one seems to have heard of him). The ever-lovely Zoe Saldana sports a fetching shade of green as the fierce and fit Gamora. Former pro wrestler Dave Bautista brings his formidable brawn to the role of Drax. Vin Diesel provides a few syllables (seriously) as the voice of the walking tree Groot, and Bradley Cooper lends his voice to the role of a mutant raccoon called Rocket, who vies with Pratt for the most quips and one-liners. It’s a friendly, winning team – and that’s what matters.

It’s nice having Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Djimon Hounsou around, even if they haven’t much to do. Reliable Michael Rooker fares better as Quill’s blue-hued former mentor-turned pursuer Yondu Udonto. Requisite villainy is provided by Lee Pace as Ronan, Karen Gillen (a standout in the otherwise disappointing recent chiller Oculus) as Nebula, and an unbilled Josh Brolin as Thanos (he’ll be back). Die-hard Marvel mavens can breathe easy: Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo, and there’s a gag (a great one) after the end credits.

It’s hardly a surprise how everything turns out, especially since the release date of the sequel was announced before Guardians’ theatrical release, but if Gunn brings the same high-spirited irreverence and bubbly energy to the next one(s) – punctuated here by the choicest selection of ‘70s pop tunes this side of Quentin Tarantino – let the franchise fly.

(For an exclusive interview with Guardians of the Galaxy star Michael Rooker, turn to Page 39.)