AFTER THE thump-grimace-exposition-repeat pattern that turned Captain America: The Winter Soldier into such a self-serious snooze (that everyone nonetheless seemed to love), I worried I might be done with the Marvel universe. In fact, between all of Cap 2's winking references to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (GRR, BRAND SYNERGY!) and Edgar Wright being forced out of the upcoming Ant-Man just weeks before shooting, evidence was mounting that Disney was about to ruin Marvel the way they had Pixar and Miley Cyrus. (Remember how wholesome you once were, little lamb?)
Alas, it wasn't to be. Hating Disney purifies my soul and simplifies my worldview, but despite being a mass-market product produced by an evil empire, Guardians of the Galaxy somehow feels like it was made just for me. It's so good! There's no way I'm going to be able to write about it without every word evoking the sound of saliva being sucked over a retainer. Adios, professionalism, you were no match for Chris Pratt and a talking raccoon.
Marvel tends to be at their best when they're doing goofy fun and at their worst when getting serious or attempting social commentary. Protagonist in a moral quandary? Don't care. Characters in a love triangle? Don't care. S.H.I.E.L.D. as an allegory for the security state? DON'T. CARE. AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP EXPLAINING YOUR OWN SHITTY MACGUFFINS!
Guardians instead gives us a hero somewhere between Han Solo and an intergalactic Wooderson in a story that's like two hours of the Mos Eisley cantina scene in Star Wars. Ignore the TV spots selling it as your typical BADASS, BRO superhero movie—it's more like the supercharged weirdness of The Fifth Element on steroids, where director James Gunn & Co. fully embrace the silliness of a story about a murderous raccoon and a giant talking tree. You have to love the fact that they hired Vin Diesel to say only "I AM GROOT" and Bradley Cooper to do an unrecognizable-as-Bradley Cooper voice for a gangster raccoon. (And without Andy Serkis there to tell the animators how a raccoon should act! How did they ever manage!)
Ninety percent of Guardians consists of exuberant world-building, with only the most cursory fraction of screen time devoted to self-serious characters gravely explaining plot devices. Instead, Guardians takes all that exposition time and uses it to build, for instance, a galactic titty bar where the patrons bet on a rat-baiting-like game where miniature blue dinosaurs run around a roulette board biting each other. It's all I've ever wanted. It's all so beautifully realized, this might be the first movie I've seen where I was happy about the existence of CGI.
Likewise, Star-Lord (Pratt) has a prized possession—an old Walkman full of '70s hits—that Gunn uses as a recurring plot device to forgive himself for shooting extended, slow-motion, balletic fight scenes. Thanks to Star-Lord's Walkman, Guardians' action sequences owe more to the "Stuck In The Middle with You" scene in Reservoir Dogs than to the thumpy, Bourne-style shaky cam of Cap 2. Oh right, these movies were supposed to be fun! Guardians is the kind of movie that kids will be leaving hitting each other with imaginary swords yelling, "Remember when the raccoon was all 'PEW PEW PEW!'" instead of trying to figure out which cross-branding tie-in fit in where. And just in time.