In a recent interview, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was quoted as saying, “I think of the Avengers as the Beatles, and the Guardians are the Rolling Stones. That is really how I feel about the groups.”

I might humbly suggest an even better comparison, and say the Avengers can be the Beatles, sure—but the Guardians are a lot closer to the Monkees than the Stones. Both the Beatles and Monkees are perfectly viable groups, each with their own talent and a track record, but let’s face it, the Monkees are a bunch of goofballs who will always play second (or, really, third or fourth) fiddle to the greatest group of all time. (By contrast, there is a fairly large segment of the population who consider the Rolling Stones to be the best band of all time. No one is going to think that of these ragamuffin Guardians.)

The important thing here, though, is that it may well have taken until August, but we finally have a genuinely good mainstream, big-budget summer movie. (No, I still haven’t changed my mind on the preposterous Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and I’m still not counting Transformers: Age of Extinction because I know I’m ridiculous for liking it.)

The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based on the comic book series that began back in 1969, before being re-tooled in 2008. Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, who’d prefer it if you’d call him Starlord; he’s a former Earthling who was abducted in his youth by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and who has since become a rogue-for-hire. His current mission is to find a small, antique space-orb, but when he does, he discovers he’s not the only one looking for it. Long story short, he eventually forms a rag-tag team of alien misfits to help keep the orb out of the hands of the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his henchman Ronan (Lee Pace).

The team includes Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned, adopted daughter of Thanos; Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a trigger-happy rodent with an attitude; Groot (Vin Diesel), a walking tree whose entire vocabulary consists of the words “I”, “am”, and “Groot”; and Drax (WWE’s “Dave Batista”), a barrel-chested warrior. It’s a gaggle of goons that would leave the Avengers rolling on the floor laughing, but the Guardians actually manage to pool their talents and get some stuff done.

Gunn (Slither) is a welcome addition to the Marvel corps, propelling Guardians into the rare air occupied by The Avengers and the Iron Man series—it’s smart, funny, and chock-full of whiz-bang effects. And despite the overly complex script (at least for us non-comic book folk), the pacing never lags.

Written by Nicole Perlman and then re-tooled by Gunn himself, the screenplay could have benefited from a Star Wars-style opening crawl, but that’s a minor complaint. The balance is often hilarious, particularly thanks to winning lines delivered with Pratt’s wry delivery and Cooper’s Mafioso-type (and unrecognizable) accent. The jokes rarely miss their mark and hit on everything from Jackson Pollack to Footloose.

It’s Pratt, actually, who makes Guardians his own; after years of brilliant work in supporting roles on TV and in movies, he finally becomes a bona fide star here, and it’s well-deserved.

Next summer we’ll get the much-anticipated Avengers sequel, and then the Guardians will be back for round two in 2017. (There’s also talk of a possible co-mingling of the two posses.) That’s all well and good, certainly, but in the meantime I’m just thankful that there’s a reason to go to the movies again this summer. About time.

4/5 stars