Even just a year ago, few people outside of a couple choice comic fans would want to see a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Since the first trailer premiered last week, however, millions of moviegoers are hooked on the feeling that this previously unknown property can become a multimillion-dollar franchise.
On paper, that makes little sense, but smart marketing and even smarter handling of characters can make even the strangest galaxies seem familiar. In 2008, “Iron Man” was a risk for Marvel Studios, which is hard to believe nowadays, but Tony Stark was only a household name to comic readers at that point. The right casting and a healthy respect for the source material combined to deliver something that not only looked cool, but was also fun, asking audiences to laugh one minute and cheer the next.
That’s exactly what this 2-minute-and-30-second trailer, which premiered on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Feb. 18, made me do. It starts off dramatically with our hero stealing a powerful orb, only to be caught by soldiers who ask him who he is. “Star-Lord,” he dramatically replies. “Who?” The rebellious Peter Quill is quite annoyed that no one recognizes him as a “legendary outlaw,” cleverly introducing the character to an audience who is just as unfamiliar with him.
Each Guardian member is then led into a prison lineup where their names and backgrounds are quickly rattled off, giving us all we need to know to just enjoy the rest of the action-packed trailer. Drax is a warrior seeking vengeance, Gamora is a solider and assassin, Rocket is a talking raccoon with a bad attitude, and Groot is a living tree and Rocket’s companion – “Avengers 2” this is not. And what’s particularly special about this Marvel adaptation is that many comic readers are unfamiliar with this band of misfits as well, as the comic has always been more of a cult favorite and only featured this particular lineup of characters in recent years.
It may sound risky to invest in such unproven material, but Marvel is relying on a technique that has served them well thus far – allowing a brilliant writer/director to completely immerse himself in the world he’s presenting and giving him a large amount of creative control over that world, as they did for Jon Favreau and especially Joss Whedon, who now serves as a creative overseer of Marvel’s film properties. James Gunn is a quirky filmmaker who started working for Troma Entertainment before writing and directing “Slither” and “Super,” two hilariously dark and underrated films featuring great casts, which is exactly what “Guardians” is set up to be (stars include Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Michael Rooker, and many more). If anyone should lob this oddball at an unsuspecting audience, it’s Gunn.
It’s clear from just a few minutes of footage that his fingerprints are all over it while still tying everything into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, as they share some intergalactic enemies with the Avengers. Gunn also has the advantage of working with less established characters, so if liberties are taken with their direction on-screen, few fans will notice or care. After Quill imaginatively gives his captors the finger, the zaniness reaches its pinnacle when he attempts to get his headphones back from a prison guard, leading to Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” being played over a series of insanely exciting clips led by the iconic “ooga chaka” chant. Any typical studio executive would say that using a cheesy ‘70s song as the driving force of your superhero trailer would be disastrous, but in this case, it went over so well that “Hooked on a Feeling” was sold and downloaded over 2,000 times within 24 hours of the premiere, a 200 percent increase from the day before.
The trailer has been viewed over 3.8 million times, and according to social media researchers Fizziology, it generated more buzz online in 12 hours than “Man of Steel” did in 24 hours when its trailer premiered at a much earlier hour – 88,000 mentions versus 75,000. Superman is obviously a much more established and popular character, yet more people are talking about “Guardians of the Galaxy” because it’s something fresh, shrewd, and genuinely creative.
People are sincerely enjoying the idea of watching an anthropomorphic raccoon and tree battle aliens in space because those characters are being treated with just the right blend of respect and love, embracing the silliness rather than shying away from it. Whereas DC strived to “ground” Superman and make him more believable by piling depressing drama onto his caped shoulders, Marvel believes that if general audiences will accept that people can gain superhuman powers, they’ll pretty much accept anything if presented the right way. Hell, DC won’t even let Supes wear his tight red undies on the outside and here we have green-skinned warriors slicing up bad guys and raccoons firing gigantic guns. Superman is revered as a Christ-like figure in his film while a guard refers to the Guardians as “a bunch of a-holes.” The difference in presentation is quite clear.
Even the movie poster has a defiant attitude, with a tagline simply saying, “You’re welcome.” By tossing all convention out the window and into the vacuum of space, “Guardians” has given comic fans hope that this kind of film can succeed, leading to all kinds of previously ignored projects getting the green light. This is exactly what I had hoped for from all the great minds involved, and as we draw closer to its Aug. 1 release date, you can be sure that Infinite Improbability will be here to prepare you for what’s in store, though judging by what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think even I’m prepared for this major shift in the status quo. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at [email protected]