Based on a comic book of which general audiences and even many comic readers have never heard, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has been labeled as arguably Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble to date. Entrusted in the ultimately sure hands of director James Gunn, however, GUARDIANS can now be more convincingly argued as Marvel’s greatest film. It is funnier and more spectacular than advertised in its extraordinary trailers, but against the beautiful backdrop of a space opera, the real triumph of GUARDIANS is the sincerity of its heart and soul in a tale of mothers and sons, family, and caring about something greater than oneself.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a throwback to the blockbusters days gone by in its ability to transport its audience to a completely new world, or galaxy in this case, and provide a genuine sense of wonder. The soundtrack built on the “Awesome Mix” of 1970s pop hits is the comfortable seat that holds onto you as you’re taken on an enthralling ride through the unknown. Familiarity arrives by way of the same feelings that were felt when watching STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK for the very first time. Imitation is not the real pursuit, though, for the most classic element GUARDIANS shares with those all-time greats is its originality.

There really is nothing quite like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. While it clearly takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is set in a very new range of territory. It is the story of five less than heroic characters uniting for individual profit before, with some reluctance, banding together to stop a villain named Ronan, played imposingly by Lee Pace, from wiping out the entire universe in his thirst for power and revenge.

Humor is always present in Marvel films, but from the pen of James Gunn, who also wrote the screenplay, the wit is faster, sharper, more frequent, and more, well, James Gunn. The energy of the dialogue is matched by the vibrancy of the movie’s color palette. Gunn’s choice of bright and bold over gritty and “real” pays off in stunning fashion. Add in the outstanding cinematography of Ben Davis and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the prettiest film to come along in years.

All of the staging and all of the laughs would prove hollow, however, if there were no characters in which the audience could invest. This is where Gunn pulls off his neatest trick. With remarkable effectiveness and the efficiency required of introducing five new heroes in a two-hour film, all of the characters are shown to be endearing despite their many faults. The snarky Rocket, voiced hilariously by Bradley Cooper, immediately becomes sympathetic with one shot of his back.

Chris Pratt is infinitely entertaining as the unlikely hero, Peter Quill, who wishes to be known as Star-Lord for the very best of reasons. His charisma could carry the film if needed, but this cast is greater than the sum of its parts. Zoe Saldana sheds Gamora’s warrior mentality just enough to create a vulnerable, multi-dimensional character. Dave Bautista does the same with Drax while surprising with his impeccable comedic timing. Bound exclusively to the words “I am Groot,” Vin Diesel and the visual effects team communicate so much more in a character that is now Marvel’s sweetest and most soulful.

The overlaps between the character arcs of the principal cast are the ties that bind them to each other and their viewers. Their bad habits, apathy being the key one, stem from the severe losses of that which they cared about most. They must learn how to care again in order to find and become a family. The emotional journey through which they all go is the most touching aspect of the film.

While GUARDIANS prompts the shedding of a few unexpected tears, it more than lives up to its expectations as a space epic. The action is dazzling and innovative with sequences never before seen in spaceship battles. The bright, rich colors are a perfect match, allowing all of the cosmic chaos to be seen and followed with clarity. The fusion of elaborate sets with computer generated imagery makes for a crazy, cool world in which the story unfolds. Production designer Charles Wood, costume designer Alexandra Byrne, and visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti, among many more, all deserve a hand.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is fresh and unique. It is also a reminder of what we love most about seeing blockbuster movies. It offers the chance to escape and go on cool, cosmic adventures in places never before seen. More than that, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY takes its seemingly ridiculous concept and tells a story that dares its characters and audience to set aside their sarcasm in favor of actual feeling. That is something on which we can all get hooked.

Come and get your love when GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY hits theaters on August 1.