updated 07/31/2014 AT 7:55 PM ET
•originally published 08/01/2014 AT 7:30 AM ET
I wish I were 11 years old again.
That’s the only way I could get more joy out of Guardians of the Galaxy, an outer-space romp that packs a universe’s worth of goofy charm, oddball heroes, despicable villains, humongous explosions, awesome makeup, silly slapstick, smart jokes, dumb jokes, the super hits of the 1970s, a talking raccoon and the requisite orb of impossible power. What more could a kid – or a grown-up who’s seen too many overly serious superhero movies – ask for?
Think of it as Star Wars, only starring the weirdos from the bar scene. Our human hero is Peter Quill, played by everyone’s funny/sweet/surprisingly hot fantasy boyfriend, Chris Pratt, as part rakish Han Solo, part, well, Pratt-ian everydude.
Zoë Saldana, painted green because her beauty is clearly too much for the galaxy to handle otherwise, is Gamora, an impossibly slim yet badass alien assassin who agrees to help him.
Then there’s Rocket, a cantankerous, trigger-happy raccoon whom Bradley Cooper has way too much fun voicing, and Groot, an exquisitely animated tree creature whose only words – “I am Groot” – are provided by Vin Diesel. It’s Diesel’s most expressive role in years. (Seriously. The tree almost made me cry.)
WWE wrestler Dave Bautista adds muscle as Drax the Destroyer, a really, really big guy from a race of beings who do not understand metaphors or irony. Snark at him at your own risk.
The plot? Oh, you know, the usual: Alien baddie (Lee Pace) needs to get his hands on that orb thingie (“an Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon kinda thing,” Quill helpfully explains), so he can destroy civilization – unless the Guardians can stop him.
Benicio del Toro and Glenn Close show up, as do characters named Nebula, Horuz, Korath and Yondu Udonta. Lessons about friendship and self-sacrifice are learned. The rules of logic and physics come under significant strain. Cool spaceships go kablooie. Pratt shows off his rad dance moves at a crucial moment.
In a movie world that’s hitting the superhero saturation point, it’s refreshing to see something new: a self-aware send-up that reminds you why comic books are so fun in the first place. Your inner 11-year-old remembers.