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'Guardians of the Galaxy' is weird, wild, and hilariously fun stuff

Thieves. Scoundrels. Murderers....and they are our only hope.
Thieves. Scoundrels. Murderers....and they are our only hope.Walt Disney, with permission

Guardians of the galaxy

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Release date: August 1, 2014

Chris Pratt lead the Guardians of the Galaxy into theatres.
Chris Pratt lead the Guardians of the Galaxy into theatres.Walt Disney, with permission

Written and directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Glenn Close, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and Bradley Cooper

You know it's crazy when a movie features a talking raccoon and a tree who can only say three words and it's still the best movie of the summer. Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where they can, apparently, do no wrong. Their latest, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a quirky and hilarious riff on a line of comics that at one time was considered a failure. It's weird. It's goofy. But it's also got a lot of heart, a sick twisted sense of humor, and some of the best characters to come along in a long time.

We first meet Peter Quill when he's just a boy, refusing to watch his mother wither away at the mercy of Cancer. Instead he disappears under the headphones of his walkman, loaded with a mixed tape of sweet jams from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, which serves as a pseudo-soundtrack for the flick. The film doesn't remain grounded for long as young Peter abducted by aliens and we catch up with him years (played by Chris Pratt), when he has become a scavenger and outlaw, who yearns to be known as his cool alias, Star Lord. Nobody calls him that.

The story itself isn't anything ground breaking. Quill is thrown into prison with a few other scoundrels and degenerates, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green skinned alien who shares a blood line with the bad guys; Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista), a murderous brut with revenge on his mind; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting, foul-mouthed, genetically altered raccoon; and his sidekick, Groot (Vin Diesel), a walking tree with a limited vocabulary. They all find themselves united against common enemies, Ronan (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), who want to track down the film's macguffin, a mysterious orb that can grant absolute power to anyone who can wield it.

If you don't know these characters now...you will. The cast is incredible in each of their roles, helping to make some of the weirdest characters ever in a comic book movie feel like odd, maladjusted members of your own family. As Star Lord, Pratt continues one of the most unlikely evolutions in Hollywood history. He is perfect in the role, bringing a sharp wit and relatable sadness to the role. Saldana looks better in green and as Gamora, she gets to be a love interest for Quill and a worthy adversary to Nebula, played by former "Doctor Who" companion Karen Gillan.

But the characters everyone will be raving about are the talking raccoon and his tree sidekick. Bradley Cooper voices Rocket, a genetic experiment gone slightly wrong. He's crass, he's rude and has nearly all of the best lines in the movie. His trusty companion is Groot, a lumbering alien tree who says only three words, "I am Groot", and they have an impact every time he says them. They all bring such vivid life to other worldly characters and each actor is given individual story lines and moments to allow their characters to develop.

It would all be for naught if the movie was under the direction of one of Disney's mindless yes-man drones. But with writer and director James Gunn behind the camera, imagination and absurdity are on full throttle. Gunn ("Super", "Slither") isn't a household name -- yet -- but he will be. He was the perfect choice to tackle such an obscure comic book line. The movie is laugh out loud funny from start to finish. The soundtrack, playing through Quill's walkman, adds a strange bit of humanity into a world that seems more like the "Star Wars" galaxy on LSD.

Sure, the effects are fantastic. The action is fun. But it's the story, which establishes a much needed and surprising emotional connection early on, and the actors (see the impressive cast list up top), which make Marvel's gamble truly worth it. Too many studios will see this as an excuse to empty the vault and produce bad movies about bad characters. "Guardians of the Galaxy" works on every level because Marvel and Disney worked hard to make sure they had the right people making creative decisions.

Despite it's space setting, "Guardians" does have ties to larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. The macguffin that everyone is chasing here is one of the infinity stones, which have been featured in "Captain America", "Avengers" and "Thor: the Dark World". The film also features Thanos (Josh Brolin), who was seen briefly in the mid-credits scene at the end of "Avengers". He's like the Emperor from "Star Wars", still playing puppet master here, trying to collect the infinity gems so he can cause trouble for the whole universe down the road.

Either your wildest comic book nerd dreams are about to come true or your worst nightmares about to be realized. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a hell of a ride and if Marvel has their way, by the time 2018 rolls around (the projected release of "Avengers 3"), you're going to see Robert Downey, Jr. sharing the screen with a talking raccoon...and you'll be thanking them for it. The gamble, at least this time, has paid off.

Running time: 121 mins.

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language