Look at these a-holes.
  • Look at these a-holes.

Let’s hear it for the cinematic asshole. The last couple decades of filmmaking-by-committee has all but banished the lovable rogue from the blockbuster lexicon. International audiences, conventional wisdom goes, can’t understand heroes and villains unless they’re clearly delineated as such. (Don’t believe me? Consider the total lack of a Han Solo character in the Star Wars prequels for the clearest example that the adorable-bastard heart of adventure films has stopped beating.) A good part of the reason why Guardians of the Galaxy is being so warmly embraced by critics, I’d wager, is the fact that the entire team of heroes in the film are, as one character in the trailer describes them, “a bunch of a-holes.” And you know what? That’s exactly what we like to see in our blockbusters.

After a brief prologue, Guardians opens on Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, a self-described outlaw from Earth who’s spent his entire adult life stealing and fucking and getting into fights. Pratt has the kind of easy charm that allows audiences to accept his characters’ uncomfortable actions—double-crossing, loving alien women and leaving them, demanding that people call him “Star-Lord”—with no trouble at all. Quill’s development was arrested in his early teens, but we still root for him, even as he’s arrested and sent to space prison in the movie’s early scenes. The other protagonists in Guardians are a-holes, too: a deadly assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana, not given very much to do), a wrathful brawler called Drax (Dave Bautista, who handles his wooden dialogue with a wooden delivery that somehow double-reverse works in a satisfying way), a tree-man named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a raccoon-looking creature named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper with a whole lot of working-class charm). Though Pratt is the heart of the movie, the two most intriguing characters are Groot and Rocket, a pair of digitally created actors who together form a perfect cinematic duo; Rocket is the Wolverine-like badass with a heart full of darkness and a mouth full of salty quips, and Groot is the innocent with muscle, the Lennie to Rocket’s George. Every scene they’re in sparkles, and they’re happily in most of the movie.

For those of you who like to rate movies as though they’re some sort of quantifiable sport, I would rank Guardians of the Galaxy near the very top of the Marvel Studios films, right next to The Avengers and Iron Man 3. This is not to suggest that it’s flawless. In fact, Guardians suffers from many of the same problems as other Marvel movies. The bad guy—a space zealot named Ronan the Accuser played by Lee Pace—is just a screaming ninny who wants to kill everything he can for no discernable reason. The plot adheres a little too nakedly to the MacGuffin framework, giving the script (which was cowritten by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman) an occasional paint-by-numbers feel. A few of the emotional beats near the end feel a little contrived. The 3-D, like in every Marvel Studios film, is total bullshit that adds nothing to the movie.

But the corporate intrusions are fairly minimal, and Gunn makes great use of the relatively clean slate his Marvel movie’s outer space setting gives him. You won’t find a whole lot of callbacks to, say, the second Iron Man movie or anything like that. Instead, Gunn gets a blank canvas on which he can introduce colorful and intriguing new characters like Michael Rooker’s Yondu, a blue space pirate with a Southern drawl and a solid sense of humor who raised Quill as his own child but can’t wait to turn him in when the bounty on Quill’s head climbs high enough. Other great actors, including John C. Reilly and Glenn Close, do fine work with their tiny parts, leaving us hoping they’ll have expanded roles in the inevitable sequels. In fact, though Guardians doesn’t waste too much time getting our characters together and sending them out on their mission, this is one of those films that feels as though a sequel might be an even better movie, just because the difficult process of landing all these unlikely people in one place is finished and so in the next movie you can bounce them off each other to see what happens. These are the kind of lovable assholes you could shove into any situation; no matter what the setting or the setup, these douchebags’ reactions will be worth watching.