Marvel Studios

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of the many, many people who has already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s latest smash hit, which is well on its way to being one of the most critically acclaimed and highest revenue-earning films of 2014. But just in case you haven’t (and especially if you have), we’re here to tell you what we thought.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of a boy and his orb. The boy is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), abducted from his home planet (Earth) one dark day in 1988, now Star-Lord, legendary outlaw. The orb is a big bundle of whammy-jammy badness, just waiting to go boom, so you can imagine what happens when Peter gets his hands on it--and that’s just the first ten minutes of the movie. This is space opera at its very finest.

The Savage Take

There’s something big happening here. Marvel is expanding its cinematic universe, not with a bang, but a belly laugh. Guardians of the Galaxy introduces us to elements of great cosmic significance in carefully measured increments, gently easing us into the weirdness that awaits.

Not that there isn’t plenty of weirdness in a movie where a gun-toting talking raccoon and his best friend/bodyguard the giant tree-man steal the show. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) never feels gimmicky; he’s just as deep, damaged, and vulnerable as the rest of the crew—maybe even more than most. When an inebriated raccoon who’s just been talked out of gunning down a guy in a galactic pool hall gets me choked up, someone has done something right.

Good as the movie’s heroes were, I wasn’t all that impressed with its primary antagonist, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). He fulfills his purpose as introduction to Big Bad Thanos (Josh Brolin) and case study for the danger of an Infinity Stone in the wrong hands, but is neither intimidating nor memorable. I was never told enough about his cause to care. I had the same problem with Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith; not every villain can be Loki, but the audience deserves a higher class of villain.

I hope that Ronan’s lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan) plays a larger role in upcoming films—which isn’t unlikely, as she’s Thanos’s daughter. I was far more interested in her inner conflicts than Ronan’s temper tantrum, and the brief showdown between her and her sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana) hints at lots of unfinished business.

Guardians of the Galaxy is fun, fast-paced, and imaginative, and proves that even second-string comic book characters can resonate with audiences if given the right treatment. This is Marvel’s way of saying: “We’re going to take some huge risks, but we promise you can trust us.” If this film is any indication, we totally can.

The Courteous Rejoinder

Writing about movies you love is hard. After all, what is there to say but “I loved this,” and “I adored that,” and “Oooh, that moment made me laugh/cry/cheer,” and that’s hardly interesting for the discerning reader. The thing is, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy a whole, whole lot. So what is there to say?

I loved the level of detail that went into every element of the picture, from phenomenal mechanical designs to intricate costumes to drop-dead gorgeous spacescapes.

I adored the multi-angled interplay among the main cast as they cycle between enemy and friend, trusted ally and less-than-trusted partner, and carry on every conversation with more weight (both comedic and dramatic) and substance than most movies manage in their full runtimes.

Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) alone made me laugh on more occasions than I could count, made me straight-up cry at one moment (you’ll know it when you see it), and in the end made me unabashedly cheer. And all he ever says is “I am Groot!” for goodness’s sake!

Is Guardians of the Galaxy a perfect movie? No. (Though it comes damn near, in my book.) Is it pure fun? Absolutely. Is it the best of the Marvel moves to-date? Quite possibly. Is it my favorite? Yeah… yeah, I think it is.

Damn near perfect.

Plus, it rewards repeat viewings: characters and settings reveal new subtleties and depths with every pass—Ronan the Accuser's jingoistic zealotry, for instance, grows more chilling each time I experience it. That's all in addition to a sense of humor that is second-to-none among the Marvel Cinematic canon. This is the kind of movie that no one has made in a long time, and that everyone should be making all of the time.

I reserve a special mention for the movie's soundtrack. For reasons quickly established in the film's prologue, Peter Quill's life is scored with the awesome sounds of the 70s (and very late 60s). That means oh-so-familiar hits like "Come and Get Your Love," "Cherry Bomb," "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)," and the inimitable "Hooked on a Feeling" suffuse the galaxy.

It is an unusual choice, to be sure, but boy does it ever pay off, anchoring the movie in a comfortable context that smoothes away our fear of the strange and stranger unknowns around every corner of every star. Not only that, it also allows for what might be my favorite title-credits sequence of all time. Seriously, the movie is worth seeing just for its first ten minutes. After that, everything else is just (glorious, glorious) bonus.

Head out to the theater.

Let the joy wash over you.

Get hooked on the feeling that is Guardians of the Galaxy.

Where Do We Go from Here?

S: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is being released to home media this month. If you missed it in theaters, pick it up ASAP. It’s my favorite Marvel film so far and one of the best spy thrillers I've ever seen.

C: I'm going to recommend another oddball space opera classic, 1984's wonderful The Last Starfighter. Although its visual effects might seem quaint compared to something as gorgeous as Guardians, if the two movies were personified, I think they'd be great friends.