Guardians of the Galaxy (12A, 121 mins)

Guardians of the Galaxy (12A, 121 mins)

Director: James Gunn

4 stars

The Marvel cinematic universe took a step away from typical comic book shenanigans towards more serious fare earlier this year with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

It's all colour and flash again though for Guardians of the Galaxy, which arrives amid high anticipation levels as the summer's last major blockbuster.

It's also the most standalone film set in this world, linked to previous Marvel entries only by post-credit Easter eggs in Avengers Assemble and Thor 2.

In fact in tone, humour and backdrop the film it most closely resembles is Serenity, and it's unlikely to be a coincidence that the director of that film and Avengers Assemble are one and the same.

Endlessly glib but rarely smug, it's a thrilling diversion filled with more funny lines and perfectly timed comedic beats than many out-and-out comedies.

It's not all yucks though, and there's a danger of it sinking under the weight of its own ambitions during an opening salvo that can border on gibberish.

We're bombarded by character names and place names to the extent that it seems like there might be an in-between film somewhere that we haven't seen where we were supposed to have learned all this.

That sense of confusion begins straight away with a prologue set on earth in 1988, where teenager Peter is confronted with the death of his mother.

Moments later he's whisked away by a spaceship and we jump without ceremony to outer space, where the adult Peter (Chris Pratt) is an outlaw adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould.

In a way it's refreshing that over-explanation isn't a problem, but a little more time spent on details might have been nice.

But that passes reasonably quickly and what it boils down to is pretty much a treasure hunt between a bunch of interested parties who are after an orb that Peter has pilfered.

His efforts land him prison alongside a ragtag group of criminals and mercenaries. It takes quite a while for this lot to actually be announced as Guardians, and what it might be that they're guarding the galaxy from, but it's worth the wait.

The threat turns out to involve Lee Pace and Karen Gillan as murderous aliens whose stories and motivations are hashed out during the gibberish phase.

Despite the initial setbacks, it evolves into an effortlessly entertaining fantasy adventure.

It's an astonishing piece of world-building, filled with evocative locations, wildly imaginative gizmos and gadgets and some amazing characters.

No-one is able to steal the show among the Guardians because everyone, both the character and the actor playing them, is fantastic.

It's a star-making turn from Pratt, who uses his roguish charisma to move up from amiable supporting roles in Her or voicing the lead in the Lego movie.

Zoe Saldana is his match as the bloodthirsty Gamora, and while less might have been expected from wrestler-turned actor Dave Bautista, his portrayal of the vengeful Drax is as heartfelt and funny as any of the Guardians.

The computer generated Guardians are great too: Rocket, a raccoon with a plan voiced with real fizz by Bradley Cooper, and a walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel who can only say "I am Groot".

There's an exuberance to the violence too, facilitated by all of the main characters being completely psychotic.

Pause for a moment to put Guardians of the Galaxy under any serious scrutiny and perhaps there isn't really very much there.

The plot is minor and the finale suffers from the same big-fight syndrome as most movies of its ilk, but it's so slick, so entertaining and so funny that its flaws are easily overlooked.

See it if you liked: Avengers Assemble, Thor, Serenity

Mood Indigo (12A, 94 mins)

Director: Michel Gondry

1 star

Director Michel Gondry's taste for dressing up his films with stop-motion animation runs riot in this eye-gougingly twee romantic drama.

Colin (Romain Duris) is looking for love and meets Chloé (Audrey Tautou), but her (ridiculous) illness threatens their happiness and takes the film to new levels of teeth-grinding annoyance.

It's a world of tiny humans in mouse costumes who perform household tasks, a big insufferable French episode of Bagpuss whose off-the-scale quirkiness comes off like Gondry trying to bring the lyrics of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds to life.

It's a romance at heart, but it drowns in Gondry's frippery, and once the novelty wears off (which doesn't take long) there's absolutely nothing left.

The version released in France runs more than half an hour longer, so be thankful for small mercies.

See it if you liked: The Science of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The Nut Job (U, 86 mins)

Director: Peter Lepeniotis

1 star

You won't find likeable characters or plot in The Nut Job, and it's not nice to look at, so it's difficult to see what this feeble animated effort has going for it.

Surly (Will Arnett) is a squirrel who likes to look out for number one, and he comes up against the local park-life (led by Liam Neeson's racoon) who want to stock up for winter.

The result is a heist on a nut shop, which also happens to be the base for human bank robbers casing a joint across the street, but most of the time is wasted on politics and doubles crosses coupled with bad puns.

Lots of animals being propelled through the air makes for chaotic viewing and it's very difficult to shake the fact that we're watching animated vermin.

See it if you liked: Over the Hedge, Free Birds, Ratatouille

Planes 2: Fire and Rescue (U, 84 mins)

Director: Bobs Gannaway

2 stars

This third generation rip-off - a sequel to a spin-off to an original (Cars) that was never any good to begin with - defies all expectations by being marginally less terrible than the first film.

It's a bizarrely conceived world populated entirely by planes and cars, where flying champ Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) develops a mechanical problem that means he can no longer race and so he trains to become a fire-fighter.

The animation quality is up a few notches and there's at least a semblance of a plot, but while you'd struggle to actually describe it as good, it's a step in the right direction.

See it if you liked: Planes, Cars, Cars 2

The Deer Hunter (18, 176 mins)

Director: Michael Cimino

5 stars

Michael Cimino's sprawling 1978 tale of a blue-collar Pennsylvania community and the way it's affected by the war in Vietnam returns to cinemas thanks to Glasgow distributors Park Circus.

With stunning performances from Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and an Oscar-winning Christopher Walken, this is compelling, bruising and emotionally draining stuff.

Several scenes have passed into film lore and while there have been many imitators over the years, none have come close to matching its power.

A Promise (12A, 98 mins)

Director: Patrice Leconte

3 stars

A young engineer (Scottish Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden) in pre-WWI Germany rises fast working for Alan Rickman's steel tycoon, with well-worn complications arising when he meets Rickman's much younger wife (Rebecca Hall). This English-language French drama suffers from slightly over-caffeineted camera work and music for what is a stiff setting, but it gets to the point in quick order and offers some growing intrigue for a while before hitting autopilot about two-thirds in.

If it never quite delivers the required levels of passion or conflict, at least Hall brings vigour to an otherwise deliberately staid affair and she should keep you watching long after interest elsewhere has waned.

See it if you liked: In Secret, Anna Karenina, The Book Thief