Mar 052014

Marvel has a plan.

Specifically Marvel Studios, the movie making arm of Marvel Entertainment, which is itself part of the Walt Disney corporate juggernaut, has a plan.  This is the simple answer to the question: Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guardians of the Galaxy

I’m stuck on a feeling…

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we’ve been experiencing a glut of superhero movies lately. Starting with the success of X-Men in 2000 we’ve pretty much gotten a new comic book movie every year since and starting in 2011 we’ve been getting four at a time, three from Marvel (The Avengers, et al.) and one from DC (Batman, Superman). In 2014 we’re going to get four new movies from Marvel alone.

Is it ever going to stop?

The short answer is no.

If we look at Marvel movies released since 2008, when Marvel Studios began producing movies under their own banner, the consistent profitability of their films has been staggering. All eight movies have been successful and The Avengers and Iron Man 3 made well over a billion dollars each. With that kind of cash rolling in there’s no motivation to stop.

Over on the DC Comics side the story has been somewhat less consistent. In the same time period DC has released six movies, three were hits, and three were flops. Batman and Superman were fine and The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises both squeaked over a billion dollars. So DC and their parent company Warner Brothers have enough of a profit motive to continue to try to match Marvel’s success. Personally I’m not confident they can do it – because they don’t have a plan.

Marvel Entertainment has a creative committee selecting directors and overseeing the scripts of every movie, making sure they are tied together in a coherent world, which has come to be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The committee, working within the parameters of the existing Marvel Universe, helps to provide the consistent vision necessary for successful storytelling and, in many cases, a successful movie. In addition, the executive leadership at Marvel Studios is fully on board with the vision and plan that defines which characters and stories will get a movie and how they will fit together with everything else.

Which brings us to Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big risk. When it was first announced in the lineup of movies coming after The Avengers it was met by thunderous head scratching from pretty much everyone. Guardians of the Galaxy? Really? You may not have been aware there was a comic book called Guardians of the Galaxy and unless you’re one of the elite few who did know I’m sure you have no idea who the characters are who appear in the book. Why would Marvel take a chance on one of their more obscure properties and try to turn it into a movie franchise? The answer is simple. Because it fits into the plan.

Marvel wants to expand the cinematic universe into some of the cosmically themed stories that have long been a part of the comic book universe. If they still owned the film rights to the Fantastic Four that would have been an ideal way to introduce some of the concepts, settings, and characters; after all, the Fantastic Four got their powers trying to reach out into space. X-Men might have also served this purpose but again, Marvel doesn’t have the film rights to X-Men and so can’t control how it fits into the plan. Did I mention that before they started making movies on their own Marvel sold the film rights to the Fantastic Four and X-Men as well as Spider-Man? That’s why the upcoming Fantastic Four film will likely crash and burn, X-Men and all the Wolverine movies have been inconsistent, and Spider-Man keeps rebooting and telling his origin story again, and again.

Anyway, Guardians of the Galaxy. Aside from opening up the cosmic story potential of all the Marvel properties it has a number of other benefits.

It’s not a typical superhero movie.

The characters may have special abilities that make them exceptional and they live in the Marvel universe but at heart Guardians is really just good old fashioned science fiction. Star Trek has been doing reasonably well thanks to J.J. Abrams and now he’s moving on to the next Star Wars (hopefully sans lens flare) but there’s always room for interesting space opera. This just happens to have the added bonus of having Iron Man or Thor pop in for a visit once in a while.

It’s Funny.

The trailer has made it abundantly clear that mixed in with all the action this movie is going to be pretty funny. I suspect we’re going to need a few laughs once Zack Snyder finishes serving up more city-destroying schadenfreude with Superman vs. Batman or whatever they end up calling it. The dark night of the DC soul started with Tim Burton’s wildly popular gothic vision of Batman. It was cemented by Christopher Nolan’s wildly successful Batman series. And it reached a nadir with Snyder’s Man of Steel. Nolan and Snyder’s movies are not joyful experiences. After sitting through two and a half hours of The Dark Knight I didn’t feel entertained so much as punished. Superheroes are escapist fantasy. Let them be silly.

It’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

This is not a marquee Marvel property and won’t do too much damage to the brand if it fails. DC rolled the dice on a Green Lantern movie and when the few people who saw it realized how awful it was it created a stain on the reputation of one of the key members of the Justice League. If Guardians ends up tanking Marvel can just write off the loss when Avengers: Age of Ultron makes another billion dollars. This creates the opportunity to take a few risks, like handing over one of their movies to the guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet and letting him make a science fiction comedy featuring a talking raccoon. And speaking of that talking raccoon, there has been a lot of commentary around Guardians asking how is it possible that we’re getting a talking raccoon movie before we get a Wonder Woman movie? Well, that’s not Marvel’s problem but seriously, with Warner Brothers DC has made 14 movies featuring Superman and Batman and not one featuring Wonder Woman. They even had Joss Whedon, the man who wrote and directed The Avengers, eager to make a Wonder Woman movie and they passed. Apparently a movie with a female lead was too risky. We’ll see how the talking raccoon does.

That, I think, sums up the future of the comic book movie. DC will continue to try to copy Marvel’s success by randomly picking properties and throwing them at the wall to see what sticks while Marvel will continue to churn out movie after movie as part of a methodical roll-out of everything they’ve spent the last 75 years creating in the comics.

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