Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★★½

I'm finding it hard to keep up with the Marvel films, largely because I can't really be arsed, but I've caught around a third of them. The only ones I've really loved before now have been X2 and Spider-Man 2, fair contenders for the crown of Best Superhero Movie Ever Made, the latter possessing two of the most intensely brilliant, heartbreaking action sequences I've seen: that astonishing train set-piece, and the rescue from the burning building. But apparently those film aren't canon, or something.

Of the recent batch, Thor was a stand-out, but I found Iron Man particularly wearying and Avengers by far the most disappointing, as I'd heard so many great things about it. Gloriously, Guardians of the Galaxy blasts the shit out of those laboriously tagged 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' films, and feels like everything Avengers should have been but wasn't. It's irreverent where Avengers was smug, deft where that film was portentous, and unpredictable where its rival was ponderous and pompous.

The story is practically the same: a bunch of disparate, essentially noble badasses try to get their mitts on a power source, while stalked by various nefarious parties, including a slightly camp psychopath. But whereas Avengers seemed overwhelmed by its formulaic story, James Gunn's film delights in diverting from it, and its sense of humour is genuinely intelligent and subversive, punched across by vividly-drawn characters, from Chris Pratt's motherless, rather guileless mercenary, to a bazooka toting raccoon ("What's a raccoon?") voiced by Bradley Cooper, and a perpetually furious vigilante (Dave Bautista's Drax) who's bent on wreaking vengeance against that fey megalomaniac I mentioned (Lee Pace).

Occasionally the humourless villainy intrudes, and it's weird to see a supporting Peter Serafinowicz playing such a conventional, unfunny part, but for the most part it's magic, the tone set perfectly by Pratt's little dance sequence at the start, and the film striking a fine balance between action, humour and human emotion.

PS: Feel free to correct my understanding of what constitutes a Marvel movie, I don't know much about it.