Guardians of the Galaxy introduces a new flavour of both style and substance into this ever expanding universe.

Following in the footsteps of The Avengers was never going to be an easy task. With a stellar cast including the likes of Robert Downey Jnr., Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans; complete with a box office return of over $1.5 billion, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comic unbeknownst to many, was a risk.

A risk, which has seemingly proved to be a masterstroke. Led by the unproven, but up and coming Chris Pratt, Guardians invokes a hilarious style akin to that infamous scene between Thor and Hulk throughout. Zoe Saldana again proves she can do no wrong on the blockbuster stage, while Bradley Cooper undoubtedly steals the shows as the loveable furry rogue, Rocket Raccoon. At least until baby Groot starts dancing that is.

Perhaps most notable is that, as we approach the end of ‘Phase 2,’ we finally see Thanos in the flesh. For those unaware, Thanos is the big bad of the Marvel cinematic universe, the Emperor Palpatine of the comic book world, if you like. My one issue with Guardians is the lack of a really dominant villain. Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, who seems to be everywhere these days, tries to act as a physical and violent threat to our heroes, but we know from the off that his tyranny isn’t going to last very long due to darker forces at work. However, the fact that he talked down to Thanos and got away with it has done little to elevate the growing fear we should now be attributing to the franchise’s Dark Lord. Backchat the likes of Vader or Voldemort and you wouldn’t be around for much longer, so to see our overall villain yield to someone inferior really made me question the true power of the Mad Titan himself. He certainly is going to have to do something incredibly dark if he really wants to win the heart of Mistress Death and get his hands on those infinity stones…

Chris Pratt, having seemingly came out of left field to get the role, is terrific. Shedding the pounds in exchange for a ripped physique, channels his inner Han Solo with a performance that will no doubt jump start his career after a string of smaller, supporting roles. A quick word on Vin Diesel too, who delivers a great turn as the voice of Groot, considering his vocabulary is limited to a mere 4 words all the way throughout the movie.

Perhaps one character in Guardians that I think has often been overlooked in some reviews I’ve read, is actually the soundtrack. Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is absolutely superb, not only does it run hand in hand with film’s comedic tone, but it gives it a feel that immediately differentiates from everything Marvel has done so far. If Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are the siblings who do everything together, they’re all good at different sports, but the resemblance still runs through the family, then Guardians is the estranged cousin with a flavour for all things lucid and wild. It’s a welcome change. Not only I am incredibly excited for the sequel that’s coming in 2017, I’m desperate to know what’s on Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol. 2.

So, where are we going now? You’d imagine with Avengers: Age of Ultron only a year away, that we’re about to enter ‘Phase 3’ of the grand plan. Captain America and Thor will undoubtedly get third outings, while there’s much talk about Robert Downey Jnr. donning the suit for a fourth time. Doctor Strange is well into production, while Ant-Man, with Paul Rudd in the lead (a casting that significantly resembles that of Chris Pratt), recently started rolling. Surely, there’s not much more that Scarlett Johansson has to do in order to get her own film, while Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo may yet see a schedule implemented around both Hawkeye and Hulk.

James Gunn is back on board to both write and direct Guardians 2 and with several plot points left unanswered (Star Lord’s father for instance, which has been confirmed by Marvel supremo Kevin Feige to not be who it originally is in the comics), there’s a lot of promise for the series as we tumble headfirst towards an inevitable Avengers/Guardians mash up.