When it comes to the business of guarding galaxies, who could be better suited to the job than a thief, an assassin, a maniac, a walking tree and a talking raccoon? No one, that’s who, and this summer Marvel Studios will unleash the Guardians of the Galaxy upon audiences in what might be the strangest offering from the studio so far.

Guardians of the Galaxy will be the first Marvel movie to take place almost entirely away from Earth (save for flashbacks to Peter Quill’s escape from the planet), and as such represents a significant expansion of the universe that’s been established in the Marvel movies so far. Unlike Marvel’s first staggeringly successful team-up movie, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy can’t rely on familiar faces like Iron Man or Captain America, but instead must convince audiences to fall in love with a whole new team of characters.

Accompanied by the caption, “Marvel blasts into space,” the latest issue of Empire offers a new look at these characters – Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) – in one of two cover images tailored to the movie. The other cover shows off some of the movie’s bad guys: Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou).

A lucky audience got to see a whole lot more than just promotional stills at a preview screening of Guardians of the Galaxy in Barcelona last week. Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige screened several extended clips from the movie, and Total Film has provided a detailed description of what was shown as well as impressions of the footage. Here’s a spoiler-free version of Total Film‘s impressions.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy has its feet firmly plonked on the ground, thanks in no small part to its likeable, ragtag team of central characters…  Rocket was something of a standout, with Cooper adopting a not-hugely-recognisable drawl for the cute-but-deadly trouble-maker… We didn’t see enough of [Michael] Rooker’s performance to get a true sense of the character, but he looked awesome, with bright blue skin and a red mohawk.

“The choreography of the [prison] sequence was impressive, not only in how it juggled the roles of the Guardians, but also the innovative action itself… and the ever-present humour.

“As impressive as the action was – think the dusty, weathered sci-fi reality of Firefly on a much bigger scale – it’s actually this bunch of characters we’re excited to spend more time with. Just as Iron Man’s secret weapon was having a hero who was more interesting outside of the suit, Guardians promises characters that you’ll be invested in before the explosions start. Roll on summer.”

The promise of a Firefly-esque universe and tone will likely be of great interest to fans of Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci-fi show, especially since Nathan Fillion was recently confirmed as having a small cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy. According to Total Film, Feige said that the use of humor in Guardians of the Galaxy was designed to pull in audiences who might otherwise have turned up their noses at genre fare. With the release just a few weeks away, we won’t have to wait long to find out if this worked.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in U.S. theaters on August 1st, 2014.

Source: Empire, Total Film