Until this year Marvel Studios had played it relatively safe, choosing relatively well-known superheroes to bring to the multiplex. Guardians of the Galaxy is different. It leaves Earth far behind and jets off into the far reaches of the Marvel Universe for a space opera based on an obscure team of misfit heroes. A far bigger risk for the studio than Iron Man et al, but one that pays off handsomely.

Abducted by aliens as a child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has grown up in the depths of space, where he works for a gang of pirates. When he 'liberates' an ancient treasure from a deserted planet, he finds himself a target for both his former comrades and the Kree fanatic Ronan (Lee Pace), who has his own plans for the mysterious orb. As events spiral out of control and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance, Quill brings together a bunch of oddball characters – green-skinned killer Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-seeking brawler Drax (Dave Bautista), gun-loving mutant rodent Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and giant tree-man Groot (Vin Diesel) – to help save the day.

Guardians of the Galaxy's plot is pretty by-the-numbers, but it's how it's handled – and the cast of characters – that make it such an instant classic. Troma alumni James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Periman have crafted a snappy, anarchic blockbuster backed up by a superb ensemble cast.

Chris Pratt continues his post-The LEGO Movie march to superstardom with a turn that feels like the sci-fi genre's answer to Big Trouble in Little China's Jack Burton, and pro wrestler Dave Bautista, given what initially appears to be a thankless gruff-strongman role, latches on to the humour of the part and offers a beautifully deadpan performance with excellent comic timing. Meanwhile, the entirely CG-animated Rocket and Groot prove to be as believable as their human co-stars, which is even more surprising when you consider that they were fully animated, rather than motion-captured.

But above it all, the real star here is the writing. For every element of the plot that fizzles, there are another ten that show you something that you've never seen before, or make you laugh like an idiot. Smart and self aware, Guardians of the Galaxy breathes fresh life into both the space opera and superhero genres, and delivers all the action and spectacle that audiences demand from their Summer blockbusters.

Picture: Marvel's outer-space shenanigans look fantastic on Blu-ray, with an impeccable 2.40:1-framed AVC encode. While the locations are varied, ranging from the gloomy interior of Ronan's Dark Aster spaceship to the bright, sun-lit streets of Xandar, colour saturation remains constant, with the punchy array of bold primaries in the costumes and make-up coming to the fore.

Behind this are rock-solid black levels, giving the vivid colour palette even more 'pop' and lending the 2D image a sense of depth. Detailing is also first-rate, with an intricacy in close-ups that beggars belief.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: This DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix provides no shortage of acoustic thrills. The escape from the Kyln prison (Chapter 7) and pod chase in Knowhere (Chapter 11) are effective examples of just how forceful and involving the track's surround details are. And that's before we get to the final act, the assault on Xandar (Chapters 16 and 17), which is demo-worthy in its non-stop delivery of wraparound sonics and bountiful use of the .1 channel.

And there's the soundtrack, a jukebox of '70s and '80s hits (including David Bowie, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5) that's perhaps the best example of its type since Quentin Tarantino's first few flicks. Foot-tapping stuff.
Audio rating: 5/5

Extras: Guardians of the Galaxy follows to a tee the template Disney has laid down for its Marvel Studios Blu-ray releases. Director/co-writer James Gunn goes solo for the audio commentary, which is rammed with details about the production and points out Easter Eggs for fans. Further production details can be found in a pair of informative behind-the-scenes featurettes – Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn (21 minutes) and The Intergalactic Visual Effects of Guardians of the Galaxy (seven minutes).

Next up are a gag reel (four minutes) and a collection of five deleted/extended scenes (four minutes) with optional commentary by Gunn explaining why they were cut. However, there is still material that appeared in the film's trailer that remains absent here. Finally, in true cross-promotional style, there's an Exclusive Look at Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron promo (two minutes) that is made up of behind-the-scenes footage and interview snippets.

Sadly, it seems that the days when Marvel Studios would go the extra mile with feature-length Making of… documentaries, of the type that accompanied the first two Iron Man films on Blu-ray, are long gone.
Extras rating: 2/5

We say: Stellar picture and sound quality make Marvel’s latest hit an indispensable addition to your disc shelf 

Guardians of the Galaxy, Walt Disney, All-region BD, £25 Approx
HCC VERDICT: 4.5/5