Revealing a crucial series of early-film sequences from the studios' first stab at space-faring superheroics, the footage dove right in while deftly bringing audience members still unfamiliar with the comic book source material up to speed, and fast. In the extended version of the "police lineup" segment, the key members of the movie's protagonists are introduced one by one -- Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Peter Jason Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) with efficient exposition on their individual backstories as cosmic criminals by Nova Corp member Rhomann Dey (John C. Reilly), complete with some blink-and-you'll-miss-'em Easter eggs: For instance, keep your eyes on the data fields for some familiar names in each characters "Associates" listings.
The ragtag band of not-yet-Guardians are swiftly being transported to the Kyln, an orbital prison housing the worst of the worst among intergalactic miscreants and, visually, a lively, fresh-feeling take on what could've been a cliched or undercooked set piece from director James Gunn that also shows off the relatively high quality of the film's 3D and IMAX formats. Exposition comes easily and freely, each character's personality, quirks and place in the group dynamic is quickly defined, the dialogue is both fast-paced and genuinely funny, and Rocket Raccoon emerges as the group's breakout character, immediately engaging and entertaining. Groot comes in a close second, but each of the Guardians is intriguing in their own right. Despite their constant bickering, the group of misfits swiftly begins to gel as a team as they plot their escape from the Kyln, unable to rely on anyone but each other -- and the mysterious fifth addition to their ranks, the already-incarcerated, quite literal-minded Drax (Dave Bautista).
Rocket's scene-stealing aside, it's clear that Star-Lord's going to be the emotional heart of the group, and Pratt proves extremely effective in an early scene in which he spies one of his alien jailers listening to his mix tape of Earthly music -- Blue Suede's "Hooked On a Feeling" in particular -- in a scene that both cleverly establishes Star-Lord's deep desire for connection to his homeworld and provides a logical plot point for Gunn to utilize all of the great '70s and '80s pop hits that have been tantalizingly promised on the soundtrack.
The bulk of the preview footage then focused on the prison break sequence, as dazzling and bravura of an early set piece as they come. The special effects are sumptuous (minus a few very fleeting "meh" moments involving Gamora's acrobatic fighting style), the action is cleverly staged, and the rapid-fire quips punctuate the action beats. Gunn's trademark off-kilter sensibility meshes effortlessly into the established style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, creating a unique, innovative feeling of fun and freshness that livens up its now well-established brand. As the escape sequence ends in a mix of triumphant whoops and sad trombone noise that perfectly delineates the team's underdog status, Gunn absolutely hooks the audience on both the characters and where their story is heading.
"Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy" arrives in theaters August 1.