Beware the movie that's Fun! with a capital F, the one populated with seemingly unpretentious characters who say adorable, clever things, the one that presents each off-kilter joke as if it were a porcelain curio, the one that boasts a comfort-food soundtrack of songs you've always liked but perhaps haven't heard in a while. On the plus side, James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, adapted from the Marvel comic book series of the same name, has a sense of humor about itself: Even when characters strut around dropping hefty expository bundles like "Ronan is destroying Xanderian outposts throughout the galaxy!" they do so with a wink. But by the end, you'll have been winked at so much you may think you've been staring at a strobe light for nearly two hours.
Our rogue space scavenger Peter Quill is joined in his exploits by green-skinned butt-kicker Gamora (Zoe Saldana), beefcake-y, tattooed chrome-dome Drax (pro wrestler Dave Bautista), and an unlikely duo of soldiers of fortune: cranky, talking raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his bark-covered sidekick, Groot (Vin Diesel). Naturally, none of these characters likes one another much at first. But they quickly realize that five heads and 12 legs are the bare minimum needed to prevent the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) from destroying the galaxy.
Gunn has to juggle so many plot elements -- so many booming galactic battles, so many whisker-close brushes with death -- that it's little wonder he loses his grip on the thing. Gunn inserts occasional moments of wonder. But he doesn't bother to smooth over the seams. Time and again, he cues us what to feel, which is different from creating the perfect weather conditions for it and then stepping back.