By Luis Monteagudo Jr.

While the hype and anticipation build for the new “Star Wars” movies to arrive, Marvel studios has given sci-fi fans a reason to visit movie theaters over and over again this summer.

Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of Marvel’s lesser-known properties and director James Gunn has turned it into one of Marvel’s more entertaining films.

The comic book giant has been churning out a string of popular, well-made movies in recent years, showcasing top-tier characters like “Spiderman,” “Iron Man” and “The Avengers.” But “Guardians” may be its biggest accomplishment yet.

The story at its core is basic sci-fi – a ragtag group of heroes try to save the galaxy from an evil force. But “Guardians” excels at telling that story at a rapid pace, with huge doses of humor, beautiful and spectacular visual effects, slam-bang space battles and a surprising amount of heart.

Peter Quill is the outcast Earthling who finds himself the unexpected hero. He’s a space cowboy who travels the universe collecting artifacts to sell to the highest bidder. But when he comes upon a mysterious sphere that possesses tremendous power, he risks all to keep it out of the hands of a war-mongering galactic villain named Ronan.

He just needs a little help from his friends. And that’s where the movie takes off. They are a group of misfits and outcasts – Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin; Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista), a brute bent on revenge; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature; and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically-engineered, wisecracking, bounty-hunting raccoon. They all excel; but Chris Pratt leaves his bumbling persona from television’s “Parks and Recreation” behind and emerges as everything you want in a hero as Peter Quill, the self-professed Star-Lord.

They fit in the best film tradition of miscast heroes who are forced to work together under dire circumstances. They argue and mistrust and even fight each other, yet, in the end find a way to work as a team. Much of the humor comes from their interaction and the work by all the actors is great, with each character getting their little, heroic moments.

Marvel has had some very good films in recent years, including “The Avengers” and this year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” But “Guardians of the Galaxy may wind up being its biggest hit. It’s a fun, swash-buckling, thrill-ride of a movie that won’t disappoint. With these Guardians around, the wait for “Star Wars” is made a little easier.

Luis Monteagudo Jr. is a freelance writer and pop culture enthusiast who has attended Comic-Con for more than 20 years. He was written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, USA Today and numerous other publications.

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