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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ takes huge risks and is justifiably rewarded

Oh, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” You had me at “ooga chaka ooga ooga.”

The trailer for the Marvel Studios space opera debuted in February, and its peculiar tone, coupled with its liberal use of Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” made it the one summer blockbuster I was verifiably tingly to see.

Happily, the finished product doesn’t disappoint.

I want the toys, the action figures and the lunchboxes. Heck, I want to preorder the 20th anniversary director’s cut on a holographic cranial chip. The last blast of summer, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is just an obscene amount of fun.

We first meet a young Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) in 1988 as he’s listening to his “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1” cassette on a Walkman, both of them gifts from his mother, who’s in the final throes of a long illness. When she dies, he runs out of the hospital in tears and is immediately beamed aboard a spaceship.

Quill is next seen as an adult (played by Chris Pratt), 26 years later on the planet Morag, dancing, splashing in puddles and kicking alien varmints around like an intergalactic Gene Kelly, all while that mixtape cranks out Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”

It’s a terrifically absurd scene that encapsulates the endearingly wacky, retro vibe established by writer-director James Gunn (“Slither”) and co-writer Nicole Perlman.

After being taken from Earth, Quill was raised by a band of thieves known as Ravagers, and he’s on Morag to steal a mysterious orb. Unbeknown to him, though, the evil Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and the even-more-evil Thanos (Josh Brolin), two of the most feared beings in all the universe, also have designs on that orb.

With that much heat, Quill is unable to sell it, and he’s hunted by the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’ adopted daughter/personal assassin. Before she can get the orb, though, she has to compete with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cybernetically enhanced raccoon with anger issues, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Rocket’s treelike bodyguard, who just wants Quill for the bounty on his head.

The four of them end up in The Kyln, a maximum security prison, along with the vengeful Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), whose family was slaughtered by Ronan. After Quill talks him out of killing Gamora solely because she has ties to Ronan, Drax demands to stay nearby so that when Ronan comes looking for her, Drax can avenge his loved ones.

And thus, out of this uneasy alliance, the Guardians of the Galaxy are born.

Granted, an awful lot of that sounds like gibberish. And that doesn’t even take into account the Nova Corps (led by Glenn Close and John C. Reilly), the various multihued inhabitants of Xandar, the Kree’s long-standing hatred of the Xandarians, infinity stones and Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), last seen during the end credits of “Thor: The Dark World,” who’s looking more and more like an escapee from a glam-rock cover band.

And it may seem like too much to keep up with. But, honestly, how well-versed were you in the world of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and J.A.R.V.I.S. before the release of “Iron Man”?

“Guardians” is both Marvel’s biggest risk and its most staggeringly outside-the-box thrill ride since “Iron Man.” And a lot of that success, much like the way Robert Downey Jr.’s sense of humor defined that franchise, stems from Pratt’s star-making turn as Quill.

He’s a wisecracking, somewhat nerdy, Captain Kirk-style space Lothario who’s warned by Gamora that she won’t “succumb to his pelvic sorcery.” When Quill, who desperately wants someone, anyone, to refer to him as Star-Lord, learns the contents of that orb, he isn’t shy with his reaction: “There’s a little pee comin’ outta me right now.”

Beneath the nearly wall-to-wall humor, though, there’s a certain amount of sadness to Quill. He clings dearly to his memories of home, and, since he’s the only Earthling around, there’s no one to understand the dated pop-culture references to the world from which he was taken.

Some of Drax’s lines get stepped on or lost in the chaos, but they’re more than made up for by the remarkable levels of emotion Diesel can wring from “I am Groot,” the only three words in the gentle giant’s vocabulary.

And just when you thought this summer couldn’t offer anything more entertaining than a chimp with an assault rifle, “Guardians” delivers a raccoon with a space cannon looking to rain down furry hell on anything in his way.

If you’re looking for comparisons, think “Star Wars” meets “Firefly” with some “Rocketeer”-style imagery and just a smidge of “Howard the Duck.”

It’s inventive and dazzling and beautiful and goofier than a junebug in January.

And because of that and whatever else Gunn, Pratt and the rest of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” gang were feeling, I’m hooked.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com

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