"Guardians of the Galaxy"
"Guardians of the Galaxy"

Marvel knows how to throw audiences into a new world crammed with characters, deliver an origin myth (for those who haven't read the comics) and have a bit of fun. Watching a full house at L.A.'s Arclight removing their 3D glasses and emerge from the theater intently discussing "Guardians of the Galaxy," you could see that they liked it --a lot. Marvel has delivered another monster hit--proving that Marvel producer Kevin Feige --like sister Disney label Pixar's John Lasseter-- can land on a dime just about every time. 

And if I were Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy, who runs Disney's other label, I would be a tad worried about J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars" reboot, which has run through several writers, because "Guardians" cleverly builds on that DNA--set in a galaxy far far away, peopled by exotic aliens of varying shapes and sizes, focused on a romance between a daredevil maverick flier from Earth (new movie star Chris Pratt) and a diminutive but imperious princess (Zoe Saldana, who appropriate for today, kicks more ass than Princess Leia), a Mutt and Jeff duo of a mechanically enhanced CG raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a hulking monosyllabic tree-man named Groot (amazingly animated and voiced by Vin Diesel) as well as several megalomaniac villains (Thanos and Ronan, played well by Josh Brolin and Lee Pace), a rapacious but charming trader (white-thatched Benicio del Toro) and so on.

A VFX Oscar nomination is in the bag, along with many technical nods. Stay tuned for our interview with comedy writer-director James Gunn ("Slither" and "Super"), who's now on Hollywood's A-list--and already committed to the sequel. Gunn's a seasoned multi-tasker who writes and directs TV, shorts, animation and features. All that experience served him well here. 

And the movie cleverly targets its core male demo --although the audience will span all ages--with a sexy 80s soundtrack. The "guardians" are all easy to identify with because they are accessibly not-too-smart, and carry wounds that have forged their animus against the universe. Quibbles include putting yet another tight-sphinctered older dame in charge (a wasted Glenn Close, complete with crimson gash and unforgiving coiffure). But that's minor.

The real question is what Marvel's got that the Hollywood studios don't--presumably a deep understanding of the Marvel world and a desire to share it with an audience. They're saying, "we love and believe in this and know you will too." As opposed to: "eat this pablum that we made sweet and tasty so you'll like it." The screenplay was developed via Marvel's in-house writers' program; Nicole Perlman chose the cosmic sci-fi comics, never knowing if her script would get made. She was amazed when Thanos turned up at the end of "The Avengers." Marvel brought in Gunn, who will do the sequel solo.

While Marvel’s offerings are prone to over-fueled first reviews when junket types get clacking, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is pulling in raves. Some are calling it Marvel’s most adventurous effort to date. Look below for the first major reviews: