If Marvel’s strangest film yet proves a hit, it could lead to greater creative risks and greater rewards for both studios and audiences.
When Marvel Studios first announced that Phase Two of its Cinematic Universe was going to include a film about the Guardians of the Galaxy, pretty much the entire internet reacted the same way: “Sorry, who?” Guardians of the Galaxy features characters who are obscure even for people who read comic books, characters who have been around for 40 years but who have never had any significant cultural impact. Even compared to bringing Thor, one of Marvel’s more bizarre creations, to the screen, Guardians of the Galaxy seemed a colossal risk. At the time of the announcement, everyone was confused. Now, the decision actually makes a lot of sense.
The simple fact is that nobody is better at the blockbuster business than Marvel Studios right now. It’s earned fan loyalty
Of course, it helps that Marvel’s brand is arguably the strongest it has ever been off the back of the success of The Avengers and Iron Man 3. The studio is in a perfect position to spend lots of money on crazy, out-there concepts because of the dedicated fanbase, made up of both comic readers and regular cinemagoers, that Marvel has built up over the last five years. The simple fact is that nobody is better at the blockbuster business than Marvel Studios right now, and the studio has earned fans’ loyalty by consistently and reliably putting out high-quality product. The poster for Guardians says it all: “From the studio that brought you Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Avengers.” What this really means is, “We know you’ve never heard of these guys, but trust us. We’ve got this.”
By proving that Marvel does superhero movies better than anyone else, Marvel execs have put themselves in a position where they can use their clout to expand their range: one of the most enticing things about Guardians it isn’t a superhero film, but rather a comedic space opera featuring a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree. It’s a brilliant move from a creative standpoint, giving Marvel the chance to flex its muscles in other genres and avoid rehashing superhero tropes too much. It’s also a brilliant move from a business standpoint, appealing to other markets who are either uninterested in superheroes, or apathetic because of how saturated the blockbuster scene is with them.
When the biggest creative risk Warner Bros is apparently willing to take is adding Batman to its next superhero film, the sheer creative abandon of Guardians of the Galaxy is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale blockbuster environment. It’s a huge risk, undeniably – as big a gamble as The Avengers initially seemed (at least people had heard of those characters by the time it came out) – but if the film is as much fun as its trailer looks, it ought to be another big hit for Marvel. And if the risk does pay off, the really exciting prospect might not be in how it affects the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in how Marvel’s competitors respond.
If Guardians is a hit, the comic book movie could see a second wind in adaptations of characters ripe for film treatments
Considering that Warner Bros’, Sony’s and Fox’s business models with regard to superhero properties essentially amount to copying whatever’s working for Marvel at the moment, the hopeful success of Guardians could very well encourage them to take risks with their stranger, more obscure, potentially more interesting characters. The Avengers has directly lead to the Man of Steel sequel sounding more like Justice League every day; films for Venom and the Sinister Six are a possibility; and the reunion of old and new X-Men will happen this year in Days of Future Past. If Guardians of the Galaxy is a hit, and Marvel’s competitors respond in kind, the comic book movie could see a second wind in adaptations of characters who are ripe for film treatments, but haven’t yet had their chance to shine.
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There have been rumours for a while about Guillermo del Toro’s Dark Universe project, a team movie featuring DC Vertigo’s magic-themed characters (including John Constantine, the Swamp Thing, Zatanna and Deadman, among others). If Guardians proves that the market for stranger concepts and mismatched teams of non-human characters exists, it would make a lot of sense for Warners to start fast-tracking it into production. Especially since Marvel is talking about a Dr. Strange film for the near future, it would be something of a coup if DC could get its magic characters to the screen first. News about Dark Universe has dried up lately, but the Flash is supposedly getting a film and a TV series, so it’s far from impossible.
This is largely speculation, admittedly, but it’s hard not to wonder what Guardians of the Galaxy could mean for comic book adaptations if it’s as much of a success as it looks like it deserves to be. It’s not often that you see a summer tentpole as willing to let its imagination run wild as this one, and it’s a wonderful thing to see that a studio as successful as Marvel isn’t happy to just sit on its laurels. If Guardians of the Galaxy is the future of the comic book movie, the future is looking very bright indeed.
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All images: Marvel