My wife is always saying that I’m prone to hyperbole (I call it creative writing), but I can assure you I’m not overstating anything when I say that outside of the original Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most important movie Marvel has ever done.

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When the comic book film studio decided to bring us Tony Stark’s first adventure in 2008, they took a massive roll of the dice. A B-list character that had been around in comics for decades, but outside of the hardcore comic geeks, was barely known by the mainstream (“Wasn’t there a Black Sabbath song about him?”). But the gamble paid off and kick-started a movie empire that has brought us everything from super-soldiers to thunder gods.

And now, Kevin Feige and friends have once again rolled that dice, but on a movie unlike anything they’ve ever done before. A movie that is filled with characters and visuals unlike any you’ve seen in any recent Hollywood blockbuster, and which was written and directed by somebody who has never done anything of this scale and complexity before.

And holy hell, has that gamble paid off!

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The Avengers has always been held by most people as the very pinnacle of the franchise, but it’s time for Joss Whedon and his heroes to kindly step down. James Gunn and his motley crew of space-misfits have just claimed the throne to laser-beamed, explosive fanfare! Yes indeed, Guardians is the new best Marvel movie to date. But more than that, it’s also the most entertaining movie of 2014!

And as I mentioned initially, it’s a critically important movie for Marvel, as it opens up their Cinematic Universe like nothing else before it. Acting as a sort of audience litmus test, if this movie is as successfully embraced by audience as it fully deserves to be, it gives Marvel free rein to start tackling the other crazier concepts in their stable.

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Now since I was greeted by many a “Huh?” when I first started excitedly reporting on this particular crazy concept’s development more than a year ago, I have feeling that many of you are asking “So what is Guardians of the Galaxy?”

In a nutshell? Just an insane amount of non-stop, exuberant fun from opening to end credits, coupled with some seriously big sci-fi ideas, jaw dropping effects (all rendered rather superbly in 3D) and massive but not overplayed or bloated action set pieces, all pivoting around a rather extensive cast in which every single member just shines from start to finish.

It takes every concept you loved about The Avengers – the amazing cast balancing act, the retina searing visuals, the side-splitting humour, the blizzardly cool character moments, the deft emotional beats, the fiendishly clever ideas, the sly winks at the audience – it takes all of that and then just turns it up a notch. SEVERAL NOTCHES! And does it all while still feeling like a 100% standalone movie, so no need to know any backstory or prior comic book lore (the movie plays very loose and fast with it’s source material anyway). Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman’s script does all the world- and character-building right there on the fly – worlds and characters so far out that they make a green rage monster look tame in comparison – and they make it look easy.

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Okay, so that was a very big nutshell. But maybe that’s still not enough for you and you need some more detail?

Well, Guardians follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an Earthling abducted by some E.T.’s for mysterious reasons from his home planet as a young boy, on the night of his mom’s death in the mid-1980’s. 26 years later and several light-years away, Quill has now grown up into a walkman-listening, fast-talking, doo-wopping fortune hunter, landing scores on crazy alien worlds all over the far side of galaxy. But when his latest gig, acquiring a mysterious orb from a deserted alien planet, suddenly attracts the attention of several of the galaxy’s big bads, he is forced to build the rag-tag, bickering band of individuals coincidentally caught up in his planet hopping mess, into a team whose job is nothing short of saving the galaxy.

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Said team consists of Gamora (Zoe Saldanha), rebellious adopted daughter of Thanos (yes, that Thanos); Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rodent lab experiment with a chip on one shoulder and a great big gun on the other; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant sentient tree with a limited vocabulary (“I am Groot!”) but unlimited loyalty to his friend Rocket; and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a vengeance seeking warrior with a thing for knives and no idea about metaphors (you’ll see).

Their actions put them in the path of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genocidal, religious radical who has slaughtered his way across a star system, and won’t stop until he destroys Xandar, the homeworld of his people’s sworn enemies and headquarters of the peacekeeping Nova Corps led by the brilliantly coiffed Nova Prime (Glenn Close). Helping Ronan in his dirty work is Korath the Pursuer (Djimoun Hounsou) and Thanos’ other daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), who just wants to have a sisterly chat with Gamora (with some pointy space-swords, of course).

Then there’s still Quill’s associate/kidnapper/emotionally blackmailing father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker), the members of the Nova Corps (John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz), the artifact gathering Collector (Benicio Del Toro) and of course the purple jawed god-being pulling all the strings – including several attached to Ronan –  Thanos the Mad Titan (voiced by Josh Brolin – and yes, he is as badass as you had hoped).

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If those last three paragraphs have left your head in a spin, then that’s because no movie is perfect. If there was any complaint to be leveled at Guardians – besides for a few nitpicks, like Ronan once again being a slightly undercooked villain, or this being yet another Marvel movie that features a giant spaceship falling on a city in its finale – it’s that the opening portion of the movie is a barrage of strange characters with even stranger names, many of which seem to have “the” in the middle. It’s a lot to digest, but luckily it doesn’t take long at all for Gunn’s script to very easily classify everybody’s stance, arc and allegiance, with nobody leaving you you scratching your head.

It’s this egalitarian and efficient approach to the cast that shines through at its finest when it comes to the movie’s entertainment factor. There are no standout scene stealers in this cast, as EVERYBODY steals the scene in just about every scene they’re in. And they all steal it often! I cannot recall when last I laughed this vigorously and this frequently at a movie, much less one studded with opulent space battles, insanely inventive art design, operatic character drama, an imaginatively unbound sci-fi setting and a tree with the most infectiously joyful smile you’ve ever seen.

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And that last bit is really what Guardians of the Galaxy is all about. It may not have the emotional depth of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, offer such subversive social commentary as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or possess the instant brand-recognition and star power of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but what puts it head and arboreal shoulders above these other great 2014 blockbusters, as well as all other entrants in Marvel’s stable (and which allows it to overcome whatever minor foibles it may possess), is that its just so much damn fun.

To be more precise: A galaxy full of crazy dynamic fun heaped on big ideas, bigger characters, even bigger set pieces and the biggest grin you’re likely to have in a cinema this year.

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Guardians of the Galaxy opens in cinemas on August 1, 2014.

Last Updated: July 25, 2014

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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