As yet another Marvel comic book squad, the Guardians of the Galaxy have always been on the outer.
First emerging in 1969, they've popped up sporadically since as a sort of third-division team occasionally running into an Avenger in a galaxy far, far away. They were reinvented for the comic page in 2007-2008 with some looking like they had stepped out of a PlayStation, especially Drax the Destroyer (a ringer for God of War's Kratos) and Rocket Raccoon (Surely, a heavily armed Crash Bandicoot? Or a meaner Ratchet?).
Then there's Groot. He's a walking talking tree creature. Not something you see in a movie every day. Unless you're a Hobbit or an evil wizard with a tall tower.
So if, as a movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is feeling amusingly derivative, that's actually true to the spirit of its source material.
On screen, Guardians' biggest debt is plainly to Star Wars. It's got a a bunch of mis-matched folks on a spaceship driven by a charming smartass, after all. So did Firefly, a short-lived early Noughties space series by Joss Whedon -- now master of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his helming of The Avengers and its sequel.
Trailer: Guardians of the Galaxy
This version of the Millennium Falcon comes with a complement that includes that tree-creature who puts the bark into Chewbacca; there's a feisty princess caught between evil empires, a hooded villain or two intent on destroying planets and a hero - the aforementioned wiseass - whose father's identity is a mystery.
Yes that does rather merge Luke Skywalker and Han Solo into one character, which at least stops this feeling too much like Space Balls.
But a thought: the Guardians of the Galaxy comic revival came after George Lucas' Star Wars prequel trilogy, a series which lacked a Han Solo. This movie makes its faux-Solo the star. Good move.
It has already been seen as Marvel being brave for kicking off something from its comic book files that isn't a reboot. Still, watching this, for all its unfamiliarity and setting in a far-flung place in the ever-expanding all-consuming Marvel Universe, you can't help feel that it's actually Marvel's grab for space-opera market share. Especially at a time when ancient pop culture properties with "Star" in the title are in the ascendant again.
So good thing it's funny. Good thing it's got a ripping lead performance from Chris Pratt as Peter Quill - aka "Star-Lord" - an abducted-as-a-kid human - shown in the curiously touching opening scenes - who has become that interstellar Solo.
Pratt makes Quill the funniest Marvel mouth since Robert Downey jnr's Tony Stark, with a script that has him quipping with references to everything from Jackson Pollock to Footloose. And there's comedy too in his beloved Walkman mixtape - bequeathed to him by his mother - which makes for a entertaining pop-kitsch soundtrack and a nice break from superhero movies as heavy metal zones.
A scene from Guardians of the Galaxy.
It's a good thing too that his gathered crew are so amusing together, which makes you worry less about which planet everybody is meant to be on or why the villains aren't particularly memorable.
Say this for Zoe Saldana, she sure is one chameleonic actress - she's gone from Avatar-blue, via the natural tones of Star Trek's Lieutenant Uhura to the luminous green of Gamora, the resident space amazon of this.
Among the rest, Rocket Raccoon is a furry hoot, his sidekick Groot sure puts the stick into slapstick and wrestler Dave Bautista makes comedy gold out of Drax, a character of vast vocabulary but an inability to grasp metaphor.
That said the pace is lumpy with frequent long and talky scenes. And boy, we sure have seen pretty much the same special effects-driven finale in the last couple of Marvel movies.
Otherwise, Guardians still feels fresh and funny and non-formulaic. They might have been comic-book margin-dwellers, but here they prove they're a headline act.
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista
Director: James Gunn
Rating: M (violence)
Running time: 121 mins
Verdict: Funny, forgettable first outing from new Marvel sub-franchise