I put off reviewing Guardians of the Galaxy until I could watch it a second time. It’s a movie with fundamental flaws but equally fundamental strengths and it required a second viewing to decide that the latter does ultimately outweigh the former. Yes, the plot is overly complicated and the villains are bland from delivering too much exposition but the movie excels at humor and developing its heroes. That, conceding that all works by human hands are flawed and perfection is unobtainable, is more than enough for me to love this movie. Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the first Marvel film to actually benefit from the market’s over-saturation of superhero movies. It derives so much of its humor from subverting emotional beats and tropes common (though not exclusive) to the genre: Nobody recognizes Peter Quill’s would-be legendary alias, Star-Lord. Rocket Raccoon’s incredulous laugh is called out for sounding fake. The guardians strut down the hall yawning, scratching and adjusting themselves in slow motion. Even when it’s not being subversive, the movie has a delightfully twisted sense of humor, best demonstrated by the decision to play “Hooked on a Feeling” over a prison montage that features Quill getting repeatedly tased and a shot of the surgical plates and screws sticking out of Rocket’s back. Yet, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t an irredeemably silly movie because it does, fundamentally, take itself quite seriously … by which I mean it takes its protagonists seriously. As Quill says, the guardians are all losers, as in “folks who have lost stuff.” Their pasts do inform who they are, they just don’t reduce them to brooding loners (take note, DC). In fact, Rocket chews out Drax, the character who comes closest to fitting that archetype, for letting his need for vengeance skew his judgment, concluding with my new favorite line in a Marvel film … and perhaps all of cinema: “We all got dead people. That’s no excuse for getting everybody else dead.” Rocket himself warrants mentioning as he is probably the character who balances humor and pathos best. There’s a reason why director James Gunn considers him “the heart of the movie.” He’s given some of the movie’s funniest lines yet he’s also the source of much of its poignancy. All we’re given by way of backstory is a drunken rant after Drax calls him “vermin” and the aforementioned reveal of his mutilated back but it’s enough to get us to take this seemingly ridiculous character seriously. And then, of course, there’s his friendship with Groot, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. You know a movie is on to something when the relationship between a raccoon and a tree chokes you up. Relationships are, actually, a major part of the film as well. As much fun as their grouchiness and bickering is, a huge strength of Guardians of the Galaxy is that the guardians really do work as a team. Unlike other ensemble films like Star Wars episodes IV-VI, Pacific Rim and even Serenity, the climax doesn’t devolve into a showdown between the lead and the villain. Quill never considers himself entitled to lead, like other man-child action heroes, and he never tries to strike out on his own to prove himself. The final climax is a collaborative effort. Groot sacrifices himself to protect his friends from the crash to Xandar, Quill starts dancing to distract Ronan in order to buy Rocket enough time to destroy Ronan’s war hammer and then all the guardians (sans Groot) are needed to control the gem and return it to the orb. The image of the four remaining guardians holding hands might be a touch on the nose but it’s a moment I buy because the emotional bonds between them have been earned. It’s just a pity that that level of character and relational development couldn’t have extended to the villains. Ronan and Nebula aren’t inherently uninteresting and if the movie had had a simpler plot, in the vein of The Avengers, perhaps it could have afforded to give them the sort of character building moments that the heroes benefit from. When all is said and done, though, these flaws aren’t nearly egregious enough to topple what the movie gets right and when the movie is good, it’s very, very good. The writing is funny, self-aware and clever and above all else the dynamic between the five main characters is gold. And really, if you’re going to get anything right about Guardians of the Galaxy … it might as well be the guardians.