When Marvel Studios announced that its next big non-sequel would be “Guardians of the Galaxy,” an adventure set in space featuring an eclectic group of roguish aliens, many reacted with incredulity (including myself). After rolling around in the money piles generated by “The Avengers,” it appeared that Marvel was starting to go a bit crazy.
But as production on the movie started to ramp up, the casting and concept art that Marvel released intrigued me; the cosmic side of the Marvel universe looked to be a vast, colorful and vibrant place, not unlike Star Wars. However, my real change of heart came when I started reading Marvel’s current “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic book — and now I get it. I finally understand where Marvel is coming from, and why “Guardians of the Galaxy” could be one of the most uniquely fun comic book adaptations ever.
Let’s start with the world. As I’ve already said, the cosmic Marvel universe is a lot like Star Wars, but with the craziness of “Doctor Who” and the comic book series “Saga.” It’s big, it’s dangerous and it’s insane; there are weird aliens, grimy cantinas and giant planet-eating cosmic entities. It’s pretty far removed from the high-realm fantasy presented in “Thor.” We’ve seen a tiny glimpse of cosmic Marvel in “The Avengers”” and will see more in November’s “Thor: The Dark World,” but the universe that the Guardians live in is so much larger and more twisted. The potential for stories is practically infinite, especially with the wealth of source material that there is to draw on. There is a fine line between silly and genius, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” very much straddles it.
You can’t have a crazy universe without insane characters to populate it with. That’s where the Guardians come in, and boy, are these guys a bunch. First up is Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord. This guy has major daddy issues. His father, an alien, abandoned him and his human mother on Earth when he was a child, and it’s safe to say that messed him up pretty bad. As a result, he now wanders the universe getting into fights, hitting on hot alien girls and being a general scoundrel. He’s the Han Solo of the Marvel universe, and being the leader of the Guardians gives him a purpose in his life for the first time. If that’s not the definition of a relatable protagonist in an adventure movie, I don’t know what is.
Next up is Gamora, the most dangerous woman in the universe. Trained to be an assassin by her adoptive father Thanos (yep, that Thanos — the all-powerful mastermind behind Loki’s Chitauri army in “The Avengers”), she has since broken away from his influence and learned to hate him. On the topic of Thanos, the third member of the Guardians is Drax the Destroyer, who was resurrected for the sole purpose of killing Gamora’s father (who is in the movie, by the way, and will battle the Avengers somewhere down the line). That’s sure to cause a few ripples.
Rounding out the team roster is Groot, a giant alien tree whose vocabulary only extends as far as “I am Groot,” and Rocket Raccoon, a bipedal, bad-mouthed, gun-toting raccoon.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — really, I do. “What the hell is this?” But hear me out. Groot is the sole survivor of his people, and Rocket is also the only one of his kind. Rocket’s heightened intelligence and advanced physical state are the result of genetic manipulation. He is a dangerous, unpredictable and totally unique individual who uses humor and big weapons to hide his loneliness. Being alone in the universe is something he shares with Groot, and that creates a strange kind of kinship between them.
As you can probably tell, these guys have some serious issues. They are pretty messed up, even more so than the Avengers. They always try to do the right thing and might end up saving the galaxy a few times along the way, but the core of the Guardians is that they are all damaged. They’re outcasts drawn together through shared pain, in a crazy universe that rejects them. They find meaning in helping each other and guarding the galaxy from huge threats.
James Gunn (the man behind the slightly disturbing superhero drama “Super”) is a great choice to write and direct the film, and hopefully he will be able to get the tone right. The cast, which includes Chris Pratt (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Zoe Saldana (“Avatar,” “Star Trek”), Dave Bautista (“Riddick”), Lee Pace (“The Hobbit”), Karen Gillan (“Doctor Who”), Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead”) and Benicio del Toro (“The Usual Suspects”), is also very encouraging.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is only going to get bigger and more successful as the years go by, but to sustain that growth, Marvel must keep taking risks and trying new things. There are plenty of sequels in the works — “Thor: The Dark World,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” — but it’s the new movies that break the mold, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Edgar Wright’s “Ant-Man,” that will keep the series fresh.
The concept for “Guardians of the Galaxy” appears pretty lame at first glance, but if you look at the source material and the concept art Marvel Studios has released, it’s clear that there is a lot more to these twisted characters and this insane world than meets the eye. It’s weird, obviously, but Marvel knows that, and they understand that “Guardians of the Galaxy” has the potential to be the next big action-adventure sci-fi franchise.
It’s going to be tricky to pull off, no doubt, and with very little footage being shown at San Diego Comic-Con (the movie only just started shooting), the verdict is still out on the execution. But the sheer ambition and potential on display is hard to deny.
Besides, who doesn’t want to see a space raccoon swearing and wielding dual machine guns?