It’s all too superfluous at this stage, considering the embarrassment of nerd (not to mention mainstream) plaudits with which it’s been inundated, to observe thatGuardians of the Galaxy is a bit of a dizzying space operatic cinematic miracle.

James Gunn, of all people (SuperSlitherTromeo and Juliet!Writer of theScooby Doo andDawn of the Deadremakes!), directs a ragtag cast of sitcom actors, wrestlers and character actors essaying roles based on characters whoseMarvelEncyclopaedia entries even your most ardently frothing of neckbeards would have to triple check.

Shot through the warm glowing lens of the eighties, reverently checking off yourJoe Dante’s,John Carpenter’s, W.D. Richter’s and yes, evenSteven Spielberg’s, Gunn has crafted a moving, dare I say it quirky, paean to the wonders of growing up (eventually).

WhereJ.J. Abramscontinues to fail resolutely in his attempts to synthesise that x-factor, Gunn gleefully spins romping, super-saturated intergalactic fairy floss from the raw spirit stuff ofThe Last StarfighterIce PiratesBuckaroo BanzaiEnemy MineKrullandFlash Gordon, not to mention the late ’70s disco ball telly sci-fi ofBattlestar GalacticaandBuck Rogers, or later loopy entries into the canon like The Fifth Element.*

The plot? It’s pretty standard cinematic ‘House of Ideas’ fare. There’s aMacGuffin– in this case a purple gem encased in ‘The Orb’ — and there’re a whole bunch of people who want it. It’s going to help them secure money, revenge, omnipotence, the usual.

Now take a couple of deep breaths — this is going to get a bit labyrinthine, and, well, comic book-y, alright?

Our titular Guardians, initially at loggerheads while in pursuit of the amaranthine bauble, include the goofy, lady-killing (figuratively, mind)Star-Lord/Peter Quill(Chris Pratt). Quill is an ex-Terran junker kidnapped from earth at eight years of age and enlisted into the Ravagers, a motley band of space redneck grifters (and alleged cannibals) led by the dentally over endowed Yondu (Michael Rooker) — we’ll get back to him.

Quill initially encounters Gamorra (Zoe Saldana), Thanos’ (you remember him fromAvengers, right?) turncoat adopted daughter and reputedly The Galaxy’s Deadliest Assassin. Then thrown pretty efficiently into the skullduggerous mix are the mercenaries Rocket (not a) Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a bloodthirsty, wise guy lab experiment with an Open Carry policy, and his sentient tree/enforcer offsider Groot, whose primary ability may just be to move grown adults to the verge of tears (when not committing acts of spectacular mass violence).

Groot is voiced byIron Giant Vin Diesel, and I’ll spare you the internet-wide propensity to drop some ‘wooden’ punnery on you, considering the emotive wonders achieved with the character’s repetitive three word phrase.

Rocket and Groot are both sublime examples of motion cap/voice acting synergy and — wonder of wonders — there wasn’t aSerkiswithin three-dee scanning range of the set. Indeed, Gunn’s brother Sean(also playing a Ravager) provided the clay for the army of effects artists whose work you’ll slog through en route to the much touted post credits sequence.*

After a dust up on the threatened world of Xandar (home to the Nova Corps, didn’t you know?) the Guardians find themselves banged up in space pokie (oh, okay — The Kyln). It’s there they meet, and initially less than endear themselves to, Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a grief stricken intergalactic hard nut with a deadpan skew on the world and absolutely no compunction regarding the removal of your spine (or worse) on a whim.

While our protagonists cool their heels in the legendarily inescapable Cosmic Big House, nefarious forces align to get their hands on The Orb.

With designs on Xandarian genocide (he’s not into treaties), there’s the hulking Kree zealot Ronan The Accuser, who smites his foes with a bloody big hammer and gets about lathered in Gorgoroth inspired corpse paint for extra dastardly effect. Ronan’s in thrall to Thanos (Josh Brolin), the rocket-throne piloting (it’s canon!) Mad Titan arch-bastard who’s up to all manner of villainy in the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Thanos has promised to give the Xandarians a right genocidal seeing to in exchange for The Orb, which probably ties into some sort of grander plot or something.

Ronan, of course, has a couple of hench-people in the form of Thanos’ other adopted daughter (under all that purple granite he really just wants to be the best nihilistic universal despot dad possible), Nebula (Karen Gillan) — a sadistic cyborg bruiser who evokes shades ofHellboy’s Kronen — and his lieutenant Korath (Djimon Hounsou) — who’s also a wee bit on the ‘borg side of things and commands an army of spooky, faceless Sakaaran warriors.

Just to keep things lively, Yondu (who’s not impartial to a spot of tough surrogate dad/kidnapper love himself, and has a serious way about telepathically deployed projectiles) and his Ravagers are in cranked up, murderous pursuit, ticked off that Quill’s nicked off with their prize.

Back on the Kyln, it’ll probably come of little surprise to you that our erstwhile Guardians form an uneasy alliance and get down to the very serious business of staging a prison break.

And if not, well, *spoilers*.

Bouncing across the galaxy in Quill’s delightfully monikered ship (with shades of muscle car) the Milano (what eight year old kid plucked from 1988 wouldn’t have had a crush onAlyssa? OrSuzanne Somers, for that matter? But I digress…), the Guardians visitBenicio Del Toro’s utterly bonkers Collector (best described elsewhere online as a cross betweenBea ArthurandLiberace).

This flamboyant archivist’s hub of operations is a mining colony based in the severed head of a deceased Celestial, and you’ll want to keep your eyes skun for Easter eggs aplenty amongst his menagerie.

I’ll give you a moment to get that Encyclopaedia out again, shall I? All that detail will be a hell of a lot easier to clock once it’s on Blu-Ray.

It would be doing the film (and word count) a disservice to synopsise any further; suffice to say I’ve barely scratched the surface of the timeless, sugar-rush fuelled swashbuckling fantasia in which Gunn embroils the viewer.

Charles Woods’ production design evokes lurid sci-fi paperbacks. Objects and vehicles have the used weight and age of anAlienorBlade Runner, sure, but add in the swooping hot rod lines of veteran sci-fi illustratorChris Fossor the candyPantonehues ofGene Roddenberry’s extra-terrestrial bestiary (via Guillermo Del Toro, in this case) and this universe exerts its offbeat charms. Throw in cinematographerBen Davis’ sympathetic lens, which drinks in the colour and vivid mood of Gunn’s tableaux — the production’s passion is evident in its infinite attention to celestial detail.

WhileGuardianscomes loaded with a surprising amount of pathos and genuine heart, it’s also steeped in Gunn’s penchant for school yard smut to keep the ‘grown ups’ on point — there’s a black light gag, for example, which is not only insanely generationally specific but also admirably ballsy for a PG flick.

And then there’s the music. Heavily featured in the film’s laser-targeted marketing onslaught, many of film’s set pieces are soundtracked by Peter Quill’s ‘Awesome Mix Vol 1’ played on aC-90(I assume) of pop bubble gum masterpieces gifted to Quill by his dying mother. Soundtracking crazed sci-fi action with ’70s and ’80s AM rock is an inspired move — how can you not love a film that introduces a generation toThe Runaways, and accompanying the obligatory ‘kitting up to kick arse’ sequence withCherry Bomb? That’s not to say composerTyler Bates’ orchestral score is not moving, thrilling and evocative. Guardians of the Galaxy is an inspired, all too rare confluence of talent, passion and good old fashioned kismet.

So there you have it. Who’d have thought, when zany effort was first mooted a couple of years back, thatGuardians of the Galaxy, of all things, would turn out to be 2014’s exemplary popcorn offering, a phantasmagoric dedication to pulpy days of yore?

Gunn and his crew have offered up a wry, dizzying, thrilling blast showcasing a cast with chemistry to spare. In these hollow days of Tea PartyTransformersand undercooked, over-greased mythical adapt pap, let’s take a moment and be grateful for those rare projects that catch The Aether in the proverbial Soul Gem.

Back to those Marvel Encyclopaedias, guys.

* There’s a certain film, concerning a certain fracas in space, which shall remain verboten; I think we all get it by now, internet brains trust, and none of your cast matchups and meme attempts really sell your case. Just let a thing be a thing (now,Serenityon the other hand…)

** Plus, that end credits tag waves a cheeky middle finger, Quill style, at said recent franchise until recently masterminded by a certain beard with intergalactic skirmish experience, (not to mention a duff adaptation of a certain Marvel property).