Whoa, Guardians of the Galaxy…where to start. In a summer of unexceptional sequels and remakes, Marvel and Disney triumphed with a new creation that had a fresh take on the space opera genre, while introducing such comics elements as Thanos, Infinity Gems, and Rocket Raccoon. I never thought I would type that sentence outside of a fever dream.

By the numbers, GotG was the biggest August opening ever by a wide margin with a domestic take of $94 million, handily beating The Bourne Ultimatum $69.2M from 2007. (To be fair I paid like $10 to see Bourne, and $20 [ouch] to see GotG in 3d Imax.) Guardians had the biggest Thursday of the year, and an A tracking on Cinemascore and 90+ on Rotten Tomatoes. The audience was 56%/44% m/f with 59% adults.

At also reversed what has been a generally crappy summer at the box office, at least for one magic weekend. But as Nikki FInke pointed out, it’s not enough to lift the entire summer from the doldrums. Only a scant number of movies have even broken $200 mil domestically this year, and they are:

1 Captain America: The Winter Soldier — $258,923,934
2 The LEGO Movie — $257,709,556
3 Transformers: Age of Extinction — $241,166,000
4 Maleficent — $234,711,000
5 X-Men: Days of Future Past — $231,702,000
6 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — $202,408,526

Do you sense a pattern here boys and girls, because I sure do. In other words, Marvel movies are going nowhere. Sony may have had to pull back a bit on its Spider-Man plans, but they’ll be back for another hit on the pipe. Because Marvel is the biggest thing in the movies right now.

And Guardians is the biggest triumph for Marvel Studios. Let’s get something straight, people know Iron Man before the movie, but NO ONE went around identifying as “I’m a Guardians of the Galaxy fan!” This success story was completely manufactured from a cauldron of elements including the massive pool of imagination at Marvel Comics, Kevin Feige’s uncanny planning ability, Nicole Perlman’s fearless reinvention of the franchise, James Gunn’s wholehearted empathy with the material, and Disney’s immense marketing machine.

And make no mistake, this was massive. While the spin is that Marvel made a quirky comedy with an indie director, the REALITY is that they spent $170 million dollars to make this the first in a tentpole franchise! That the “quirky indie” story survives at all is testament to good marketing and the inherent charm of the material.

I’ll forego writing a full on review, but as much as I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy as a movie—the opening scene with Star-Lord dancing to an 80s hook more seismic than any weapon in the film was the best musical scene in a Marvel movie since Peter Parker looked vacant to “Raindrops keep Falling on my Head”—it still had the same flaws as must MCU films: no matter how grungy the heroes they must save THE ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD by the end of the movie, leaving little room to up the excitement in the next film. Except I guess they’ll save the UNIVERSE next time? There was also, by Star Wars standards, a lot less banter than you’d think. In CGI films, the talking scenes are rewards for sitting through the action, whereas in practical effect days the reverse was true.

All that said, Guardians was, like The Matrix, an amazing amalgamation of everything before it: Raiders, Star Wars, Miyazaki, Disney, Full House. It was far and away the most beautifully art directed Marvel movie yet, with breathtaking vistas and wonderfully set up shots that have the characters—all acted totally on point—their due as both ruffians and heroes. And more importantly, it had—oh God I’m choking as I write this but I have no choice—the Marvel Magic. Guardians was set in a world where anything could happen, from a mining colony set in a Celestial’s head to a tree man who was more human than anyone else on screen. From Thanos’s cold star swept throne to a raccoon with a big gun. Ronan was the latest in a run of rather faceless generic world-threatening adversaries, but he looked cool and Lee Pace has the franchise in arrogant, judgmental magical villains. everyone says that in comics you can do ANYTHING whereas movies have budgets, but in Guardians the comics vision was put front and center and it was…magic.

Yet that scene with the mining colony set in the Celestial’s head may be a metaphor a little too close for comfort. This is another Marvel film where original creators could have been shut out, but Marvel Disney did the right thing as Jim Starlin—creator of Gamora, Drax and Thanos—and Bill Mantlo, co-creator of Rocket Raccoon, have both been looked after. But so much of the movie was an homage to Jack Kirby, whose heirs continue to battle with the studio.

And the final post-credits sequence? SPOILERS BELOW! BEWARE BEWARE!

It features Howard the Duck, followed by a card saying “Howard the Duck was created by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik.” I don’t know how Marvel dealt with the living Mayerik or Gerber’s surviving family, but I think it’s safe to say Gerber himself is probably spinning in his grave at that one.

That scene says so much though, about Marvel and where it is now. It’s Feige’s ultimate victory lap—even the studio’s worst failure, a movie so horrific it has remained a watchword for awfulness (and a harbinger of George Lucas’s inability to make good movies) for generations. But Haward is back in the pack, Disney owns him, and they’re free to go on mining that head for years to come.

I don’t mean to piss on anyone’s wheaties, here. Guardians of the Galaxy was a triumph of studio filmmaking, and my big regret is that I had seen so much of it before hand covering the story so that I couldn’t experience it freshly and unexpectedly.

Part of the reason for Guardians success has to be James Gunn. The guy’s social media campaign for the movie was sheer genius, something he had to work with ultra-secretive Marvel to develop:

Obviously that’s something you like to do, but at the same time, is it something that you have to talk to Marvel about, due to the studio’s secretive nature?

I did at the beginning. Like at the very beginning, I kind of shut up about the movie when I first got hired. And didn’t say anything for a long time. And then little by little, something would come about and I’d be like “Please let me quench this stupid rumor?” You know, “Please let me say there is no fucking Planet Hulk movie.” That’s the dumbest fucking thing. There’s no fucking Planet Hulk. You know, please let me do that… That’s a way for me to get that out there. I’m like, please let me do whatever. And then sometimes they say, “I don’t really think so. We’d rather not engage in this type of thing.” And then there’s other times they’re like “Yeah, go ahead.”

Likewise, Kevin Feige has legitimately put Marvel in the same breath as Pixar as a trusted studio, and if they haven’t yet made their Ratatouille, Guardians contains perhaps the first genuinely tear jerking moments in Marvel films—if you’ve seen it you know what I mean. They’ve also completely utterly owned the WB’s efforts to get a DC Cinematic universe off the ground. DC gave us Ben Affleck looking jet lagged and puffy for less than a minute in Hall H. Marvel has a charming, fit Chris Pratt offering diet tips as he races across chat shows and social media after starring as a character who got started in a black and white SF magazine.

BUT — read on to the next post for the fatal flaw of Marvel studios!


  1. It’s all rainbows and puppies right now, but less than a year from now we’re going to be faced with Marvel’s potential first true critical bomb: Ant-Man. They start filming in just a few weeks and the new script isn’t even finished per Peyton Reed…bad, BAD sign.

  2. The soundtrack of super hits from the ’70s has been credited with drawing middle-aged adults to this movie. But the fact that it looked fun, and not like another dark, brooding, angst-ridden comics movie, may have been a factor.

  3. I agree. I actually was a GotG fan because I liked the 2006 re-boot and I really enjoyed this movie. Ant-Man is the one film they’ve announced where I completely don’t care. They are going to have to do an amazing sales job on that one, or set it up so well in Avengers 2 that you just can’t miss it.

  4. ” … even the studio’s worst failure, a movie so horrific it has remained a watchword for awfulness …”

    Of course, Marvel Studios didn’t produce the 1986 HOWARD. Universal was the studio behind that movie. Hollywood legend has it that two Universal execs had a fistfight during an argument over who was responsible for green-lighting the resultant fiasco.

  5. I thought Supergirl was the worst DC/Marvel movie adaptation of all time?

    HtD = 14% (43 reviews)
    SG = 8% (25 reviews)
    Slater (debut)! Dunaway! Farrow! O’Toole!

    Okay… Howard won four Razzies (out of seven noms)
    Supergirl… two noms. (O’Toole and Dunaway)

    What’s interesting about GotG… no origins.
    Nobody really has superpowers (except for Rocket…can’t wait to have him share a beer with Captain America and compare notes)… everyone is just who they are, we get some exposition about why they are, and the film keeps on moving.

  6. Yeah I still don’t know about Ant-Man. He’s Marvel’s Aquaman…not sure why they think the character can headline a film. I wasn’t even sold on the idea of an Edgar Wright film.

  7. I was definitely bummed to hear about Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man, but I like Rudd, and actually think it’s such a basic, primal idea, guy who can shrink or get big, that it will likely have broad appeal. Time will tell.

    On GotG, I have to say, I’m still a bit shocked they pulled it off, and did it so well. I mean, they almost couldn’t have picked a more obscure, bizarre title to adapt, but damn if it didn’t work out.

    At this point, though, they real interesting question is if Marvel can do TV. There was, to my knowledge, very little discussion of the upcoming Netflix Daredevil, Heroes for Hire and Jessica Jones series at Comic-Con. Not sure if the formula that has worked for the movies will translate effectively to TV, but I’m eager to find out.

  8. I liked the movie fine (though perhaps not as much as a lot of the reviews) and thought that, given the lack of awareness for the characters prior to the movie, thought this was certainly a validation of both the Marvel movie brand and the power of its marketing.

    My main minor complaint (more an observation) was that it was pretty heavy on exposition, partly to make sure it fit into the Marvel universe/arc. But even if you couldn’t follow all that, the film’s charm was enough to carry the audience through it.

  9. “but NO ONE went around identifying as “I’m a Guardians of the Galaxy fan!”

    I wouldn’t say NO ONE because many of us liked the original Guardians back in the 70’s (I was exposed to them through my older brother’s Avengers comics) and followed them in their series in the 90’s.
    Obviously, that’s not the movie cast but DNA did a great job on their Guardians title a few years ago. I actually think it’s superior to the Bendis book right now and feel like the movie has DNA to thank more than Bendis for their storyline.
    That said when the movie was first announced, as much as I enjoyed DNA’s book (which I think was cancelled by that point) no way did I think that Marvel Studios would pull it off. I saw it today and loved it!

  10. Good post.

    I disagree about the Gerber credit. I think it was a tribute to the man whose GoG and Defenders actually showed the world how this kind of meta-superhero thing could work. Howard’s cameo was almost an excuse to end out the movie with Gerber (and Mayerik’s) name.

    Maybe I’m just a sentimental guy but that and the Mantlo credit were meaningful.

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