GuardianscoverGrade: A-
Entire family: No, but . . .
2014, 121 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for some language
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features: C

Who could have predicted that a Han Solo type, a talking raccoon, a walking tree, an ill-tempered green-skinned woman, and a shirtless tattooed convict would make such an entertaining group to watch? Almost as surprising—at least for the parents who thought they were turning their kids on to another Star Wars—is that Disney-Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is about a group of intergalactic escaped convicts who band together despite great differences and decide to do something unselfish for a change. And it’s a doozy: they try to save the universe, starting with a planet that the villain intends to destroy.

The main characters are different from the group that appeared in the 1969 Marvel comic book, but credit Disney for finding a way to assemble them from other Marvel comics and insert them into a cohesive, slam-bang sci-fi/fantasy adventure that takes the original Guardians concept and runs with it, while also generating a comic-book vibe built on non-stop action. And the best part? Humor rides along in a sidecar.

The film’s gags and jokes will make all that sci-fi violence palatable for parents who worry about their children being exposed to such things. Guardians feels like a visual comic book, and tone is largely responsible. It’s fun, it’s funny, it features a strangely likable group of characters and terrific action sequences and special effects, and the screenplay and direction keep things moving along—another surprise, really, if you consider that the film is directed by James Gunn, the fellow who gave us the clunky live-action Scooby-Doo movie.

GuardiansscreenChris Pratt really anchors the cast. He’s infectiously likable as Peter Quill, an Earthling who’s snatched as a boy by a blue-skinned interplanetary rogue (played rather menacingly in Woody Harrelson Natural Born Killers fashion by Michael Rooker). Like Jim Hawkins and Oliver before him, he’s adopted and taught the ways of thievery, thuggery, and skullduggery. But a brief stint in prison puts him in contact with Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a mutation that’s intelligent enough to know he’s the product of wild experimentation, and Rocket’s sidekick, the talking, walking tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). There he also meets Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned woman who, like him, was adopted and trained for a life that goes against her nature, and Drax (WWE star Dave Bautista), a tattooed shirtless hulk who’s bent on avenging his family’s death. Together they figure out how to break out of prison, and when responsibility for saving the universe falls their way, they all stand tall. Well, except for that little raccoon.  

The villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), seems a bit familiar, and so do some of the futuristic cities. But every time you see something that gives you a sense of déja vu, the spectacular special effects and superior science fiction elements in the art decoration and set design make you quickly forget. In the end, you really do marvel at how this universe feels both fun and action-packed—a real visual page-turner. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best sci-fi/fantasy films released in 2014, and the humor and science fiction all but guarantee plenty of repeat play. As of now, the single Blu-ray is available at Best Buy, while the 3D Blu-ray combo (same bonus features) is at multiple retailers.