Marvel's Phase Two: 'Thor: The Dark World,' 'Cap 2: Winter Soldier,' 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Avengers 2' -- EXCLUSIVE

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Image Credit: Marvel Studios

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Guardians of the Galaxy

(due Aug. 1, 2014)

A warrior tree?

A rocket-launching raccoon?

Chris Pratt?

Probably the most daring and outrageous of Marvel’s Phase Two slate, Guardians of the Galaxy features a cast of oddball intergalactic characters who would be quite at home knocking back drinks in the Star Wars cantina.

Parks and Recreation’s Pratt plays Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord), the half-alien leader of a team that includes genetically engineered gunslinging varmint Rocket Racoon, a giant fighting tree named Groot, wrestler Dave Bautista as knife-wielding green muscleman Drax the Destroyer, and Zoë Saldana as the assassin Gamora, the last survivor of an otherwise extinct alien race.

In the never-before-seen concept art below, we see a young Quill’s first close encounter on Earth, before he is whisked away to the far reaches of the galaxy. Marvel isn’t revealing much about the craft, but it is not the ship from the comic books that goes by the name “Ship” -– a sentient spacecraft with a feminine persona who has a kind of crush on Star-Lord … (because, you know, THAT would be crazy.)

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Image Credit: Marvel Studios

“Guardians takes place within the continuity of the [other movies] but it’s on the other side of the universe,” Feige says. “We’ve always wanted to do a space movie. I’m obsessed with Star Wars, I’m obsessed with Star Trek.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy comic books began in 1969, and though it is more of a cult-favorite than a mainstream title, the movie aims to change that by introducing this team of law-and-order-enforcing cosmic misfits.

“It’s a huge story on a massive canvas,” Feige says. “We can take it to all those crazy places as long as all the characters respond in an emotionally truthful way. That’s why I believe people are going to respond to Chris Pratt and to an alien Zoë Saldana—because they did respond to that one time before [with Avatar]. And to a tree and a raccoon who, it is certainly our intention, will steal the whole movie.”

The voices of Rocket Raccoon and Groot (who, Hulk-like, isn’t the most verbal character and tends to say only his own name) haven’t been cast yet, but filmmaker James Gunn (Super, Slither) has shown a willingness to cast his offbeat movie in appropriately offbeat ways.

Saldana as a seductive alien badass? No brainer. But Pratt, known for the dim-but-lovable Andy Dwyer on TV, was an unusual a choice for a superhero. (Of course, so was Michael Keaton as Batman once upon a time …)

“He’s a hilariously frumpy, doofy guy in Parks and Rec, and he’s an incredibly kickass ripped guy in Zero Dark Thirty and that’s pretty awesome,” says Feige. “He’s going to need that in Guardians. That’s a big range right there.”

Still, finding the right actor wasn’t easy. “We did a lot of auditions, a lot of screen tests, just as we did for Thor, just as we did for Cap,” Feige says. “[Pratt] was hilarious, he was moving, he was … you bought him in the early versions of the outfit.”

As team leader both on and off screen, Pratt also helped them figure out who else should join the Guardians. “One of the reasons Bautista got the part was because his banter, and ad libs, and screen tests with Pratt were awesome.”

Now they just need their raccoon. “We’re open to being surprised,” the producer says.

NEXT PAGE: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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