GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (M)
Directed by James Gunn
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel rolls out the 10th film in what is already - by some accounts - the world's second-most successful franchise ever.
The series kicked off in 2007, with Iron Man, a film I didn't appreciate at the time, mainly because circumstances and deadlines dictated that I was stuck reviewing it at 1am, with the BBC reporting live on the American bombing of the Iraqi civilians in Fallujah on the TV as I worked. Somehow a Hollywood blockbuster with an arms dealer for a hero stuck in my craw a little that night.
I went back and watched the film again a week later, befriended a few comic-book-guys for background research, and have pretty much loved what Marvel have done ever since.
I don't think Iron Man 2 (2010) was up to the standard of the rest of the series, and The Incredible Hulk (2008) was bedevilled by the same problem that always stymies that character: when he's doing anything interesting, he can't talk, and when he talks, he's never interesting.
But apart from those two misfires, I'm very happy to have this gig while this franchise is underway. And never more so than last Sunday, at a preview screening of Guardians of The Galaxy.
This is the first of this series aimed more at kids than adolescents and adults. There's a silliness and a goofiness about Guardians that perhaps wouldn't have been indulged earlier on.
But with the brand established as a reliable supplier of dark and occasionally quite grim entertainments, it seems as though with this outing the men and women of Marvel Studios are ready to wave their knickers in the air and just have themselves a bit of a laugh.
And so we get a respectful-to-the-comics retconning of the whakapapa of young Peter Quill, who is taken as a boy from Earth in a spaceship, and raised by space-pirates to be a mercenary bad guy with a heart of gold.
By the time we meet Peter he is going by the name 'Star-Lord' (to some hilarity), and about to unwillingly team up with a very kick-arse warrior woman (Zoe Saldana), and, errm, a genetically engineered gun-fighting raccoon whose best mate is an ambulatory tree (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. No, really).
From those beginnings, Guardians of The Galaxy quickly mutates into an old-school kids' movie of the best sort; one part classic pirate film, one part affectionate nod at every great space adventure that has gone before - Star Wars is very deliberately and affectionately referenced here - and one part laugh out loud buddy-comedy-in-space.
This Marvel series has produced a couple of extraordinarily good films, and we can argue all we want about which is the 'best' (hint:The Avengers is), but Guardians of The Galaxy is without doubt my new personal favourite.
This is terrific writing, great casting, stunning cinematography and effects, and the year's best soundtrack, all in the service of a story that'll access and delight the inner 10-year-old in all of you. I love this film.