Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★★

Officially moves up to be my favorite stand-alone Marvel film (avengers as a team will always have a richer groundwell both narratively and thematically, and Whedon is just the perfect man for that balance act), mainly because of its infectious joie de vivre. Its extreme... eagerness, for lack of a better word, can result in a few missteps (hurried exposition/plot shortcuts to get to the good stuff, that gratingly manipulative opening, etc.) but often lead to fun jokes, endearing camaraderie, and even some hidden, surprising nuggets of deeply felt emotions. It looks fantastic too, with colorful compositions, generally good action scenes (by having the action be led primarily by character beats) and even a bombastic Marvel-style climax that fits the story and its world for once.

Also, having the real climax resides in character beats -- where it ties Peter's lost family to his present, make-shift one -- still never fail to almost choke me up. The film's embrace of nakedly open emotions (whether it be joy or sadness) in risk of occasional corniness is welcome if it means producing many sublime, powerful instances throughout -- like the notion that a world can be saved, for once, by holding hands.

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