Losers. Criminals. A-holes. All of these are accurate descriptions of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the titular team of Marvel’s latest blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only did this movie meet expectations, it utterly annihilated them. How is it that this unlikely film has managed to do so much box office traffic?
Guardians represents all that is good about superhero movies to date. It has the same level of action as The Avengers and the humor of Iron Man without feeling like either is forced. There are two reasons for this, in my slightly less than humble opinion. First, there is the fact that the Guardians are relative unknowns, even in the comic world. Sure they’ve had some great runs and Marvel is currently making a big deal (with good reason) out of their on-going series, but they’re really a B-/C+ level team, especially when you compare them with the likes of The Avengers or The X-Men. When you branch out of the comic world, not only have people not heard of them, they’re often confused by them. Two green people, a tree, a talking raccoon and a goofy human don’t make for the most likely of galactic heroes, especially to those unfamiliar with the bizarre realities of comics. However, this anonymity works to their advantage. Since the characters aren’t as well known, there is likely to be less fan backlash for any minor adjustments in characterization and backstory that might occur. This also lets the uninitiated learn about the characters right alongside those who would normally be more in the know.
The second main reason I think that Guardians works so well is the setting. When ridiculous things are surrounded by even more insane things, it tends to make them more tolerable. If this same group of characters were walking around the streets of Chicago, fans would have a difficult time accepting them. Drop them in an interstellar prison where they are far from the most unusual thing, however, and they appear almost normal. Also, I think it was high time Marvel tapped into its comic bag of tricks and pulled out a space epic. While it is true that not every space epic does well in theaters, there are several examples of one doing extremely well. Does anyone else remember Avatar or Star Wars? While Guardians is nowhere near those levels of success, it is certainly holding its own in an otherwise anemic summer season.
The film also has the wonderful ability to not take itself too seriously. While I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it’s sometimes tough to watch because it is so dark and gritty. Guardians on the other hand has its serious moments, but it also feels free to add in a joke or one-liner to lighten the mood at just the right moment. There is a real sense that the writers knew both the source material exceedingly well and that they took great care in utilizing each character to his or her full potential. Admittedly, Rocket could have been far more foul mouthed, but I don’t think that hurt the film in any way. If anything, being slightly more family friendly probably helped increase their sales numbers.
Now, it goes without saying that Guardians is yet another hit for Marvel Studios. With this success however comes risk. Marvel is not the only studio to have enjoyed a similar string of hit movies, only to start falling flat. Look no further than Pixar. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still making money hand over fist, but there has been generally accepted decline in the quality of movie that Pixar has been producing. Guardians of the Galaxy current success does not mean that Marvel can stop pushing themselves to do better. Comic movies walk a very thin line between giving the existing fanboys what they’re looking for and making a movie that is capable of enticing new people to come and join the fold. Guardians seems to hit that sweet spot, now all Marvel has to do is remember how they made this movie and repeat.