Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy finds space adventurer Peter Quill the object of a bounty hunt after stealing an orb coveted by a treacherous villain, but when Quill discovers the power it holds, he has to rally his rivals to save the universe.

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Intergallactic buddy movie stops short of reaching for the stars

There’s a common lament that Hollywood’s main interest lies in making films for 14-year-old boys and their adult counterparts – men who collect comic books and fondly remember the magic of Star Wars. The latest big budget superhero film from Marvel/Disney, Guardians of the Galaxy, offers no argument against this complaint. The characters are crudely drawn stereotypes, the action is spectacular, violent and overblown (yet strangely bloodless), and the humour is of the most basic and witless kind that will translate well for non-English-speaking audiences. Yet there’s an exuberance to this unashamedly stupid and derivative story, directed and co-written by James Gunn (Slither, Super). So, if you like this kind of thing – spaceships, aliens and massive explosions – there’s some mindless fun to be had amid the CG clutter and superfluous 3D effects.

The 10th instalment in the Marvel cinematic universe (including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers), Guardians of the Galaxy is a standalone story set in outer space, following a bunch of rag-tag bounty-hunters and petty thieves who band together and, completely unsurprisingly, ‘save the galaxy’. Those who enjoyed the anarchic alien bar scenes in Star Wars will be glad to be back in such territory. The MacGuffin here is a shiny silver orb of unimaginable power. About the size of a baseball, it’s an object that everybody wants, and in the wrong hands it will destroy life, presumably like a nuclear bomb. There’s a great deal of chasing, fighting and angsting that goes on around this orb, but none it really matters except to propel the plot forward to the next action sequence – and the film’s third act feels like an interminably repetitive loop of such exhausting sequences.

The central character, Peter Quill (a super-buffed Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation) harks from planet Earth. Traumatised as a child by his mother’s death, he was abducted by space pirates (led by the kindly-cruel Yondu, played by Michael Rooker). His only connection to Earth is his beloved 80s-style Walkman, which plays a cassette tape of '70s and '80s hits like 'Hooked on a Feeling', 'Cherry Bomb' and ‘I’m Not in Love’. It’s a cute and funny touch that grounds the film in a certain pop nostalgia that’s bound to appeal to the parents of kids who’ll be taken to see this movie.

All grown up, Peter Quill insists on being known as Star-Lord – though it’s a recurring joke this grandiose moniker never catches on. Quill is a self-conscious mash-up of Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Marty McFly. He’s a not-very-wise-cracking womaniser who collects conquests and steals artefacts across the universe, never causing much harm. When he steals the orb, he clashes with a bunch of evil guys in scary makeup – Ronan (Lee Pace), Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin). Banding together with Quill against the bad guys (after initial conflict) are the green-skinned sexy assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the genetically modified raccoon-creature Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the heavily tattooed irony-free Drax (played by pro wrestler Dave Bautista), and a rather magical and scene-stealing sentient tree-like creature, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), who is surely the Chewbacca of the team. These five ‘Guardians’ overcome their differences, learn to sacrifice themselves for a greater good, and in the process, become an odd kind of family. ‘If we’re going to save the galaxy, we’re going to have to do it together,’ says the never-very-original Quill. Like so many elements of this film, this narrative arc is all too familiar. But it’s fun to watch it played out with such B-movie gusto.