Back in February, Comics on Film devoted some space to anticipating James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, thinking that its bold willingness to go into the cosmic sector of the Marvel universe could be an important and pivotal moment in the future of comics-based cinema. Sure, it has a rather strange concept and a haphazardly assembled group of protagonists that include talking trees and raccoons, but prerelease materials seemed to trust the audience to go on a crazy and thrilling ride with this film. Indeed, part of the fun of Guardians is that it throws you into the deep end.
So, now that August 1 has come and gone, does the newest film from Marvel Studios accomplish what we predicted it very well might?
It may be a little too early to say, but the success at the box office and with critics thus far is a definite sign audiences will accept a scenario as long as they can properly invest in the characters. So, are the gloves off for future comics films to go off into space? Yeah, it certainly looks that way.
A Fun Ride, and an Essential Building Block
Guardians is a sci-fi adventure that, if anything, puts more pressure on J.J. Abrams to really deliver next year with the release of Star Wars: Episode VII. It didn't take very long for comparisons to be made between Guardians and the original Star Wars trilogy, with some even calling the duo of Rocket and Groot the new Han and Chewbacca. It delivers a space adventure on a grand scale, but manages to present all of the wild events through a decidedly human context, with the deft characterization of Star-Lord giving the audience an "in" very early on.
Beyond these elements, though, Guardians is just as much an important building block for future adventures within the MCU. While Thor: The Dark World gave a more indirect explanation of the Infinity Stones, Guardians let the full power and threat of these galactic relics be known, and gave us our first glimpse at the fully formed Thanos: the mastermind behind Loki's invasion of New York City in the first Avengers film.
This likely won't be the last we see of Thanos, since the establishment of the stones and the presence of the despot seem to point toward Marvel's Infinity Gauntlet event as a possible contender for a third Avengers film, which may also feature the Guardians themselves (I can't wait to see Tony Stark and Rocket quip each other to death).
So not only is Guardians a comic book film that takes things to a whole other level, but it will prove to be an important starting point as we head into the MCU’s Phase Three.
How We Got Here
While Jacob Hall very effectively illustrated Guardians in relation to 2011’s Green Lantern, there are a number of other reasons that this film is important in the wider scheme of films derived from comics. Any seasoned comics fan will tell you that a multitude of great comic book stories take place in space. For decades, when someone talked about comic books, people would conjure images of science fiction and Flash Gordon. The idea of space-faring stories and the four-color comics page were inseparable for a long time, until things evolved to a point where comics are now seen as a more viable medium for other kinds of “more serious” stories.
As a result, the majority of space-faring sci-fi has been original creations on film or television. Star Wars and Star Trek dominate the perceptions of sci-fi universes, but for whatever reason, studios with these comic book properties have been nervous to adapt comics that exclusively take place in space. Superheroes and space, in their eyes, just didn’t mix.
Green Lantern tried to change that, and while that film had a great visual design with a lot of alien characters on-screen, the story was still shackled firmly to the surface of the Earth, and a number of other perceived problematic factors caused that film’s critical and commercial failure. The Avengers got us a bit closer, but it was still a story that took place on our planet. In that instance, though, the threat from the stars came to find us at our doorstep, and we got our first look at Thanos. The next year, Man of Steel opened with a jaw-dropping battle scene on the planet Krypton, which many critics and fans praised for its beauty and scale. Krypton was fully realized with unique flora and fauna along with some incredible-looking technology, but of course, we didn’t get to stay on Krypton for long.
Why Guardians Is an Important Comics-based Film
Guardians is a culmination of these previous efforts, in a way, by starting us out on terra firma before launching us into the vastness of the galaxy. It made no attempts to appease people that might not understand what was going on, nor did it apologize for being exactly what it was: a space-faring adventure film with a great deal of heart, humor and fun. Watching the movie in some ways can feel very freeing, because while you’re not laughing at the interplay between the characters, it gives you an enormous sense of scale that, at times, truly felt limitless.
As a comic book film that finally unleashed its characters into the endless possibilities represented by the "final frontier,” Guardians of the Galaxy will hopefully be evidence that space-based comics are just as ripe for adaptation as a scowling hero in a cape. While there were certainly elements unique to Guardians that need to be recognized as such, it’s a film that succeeds because of its setting – not in spite of it.
So, if DC takes another shot at Green Lantern or maybe even Adam Strange, or if the Fox folks give us an X-Men movie that features the Shi’ar Empire, I'd implore them to do their audience a favor: fully embrace what the material is. Babying is no longer necessary. That’s one element of Guardians that most would likely agree is just fine to emulate.
Chris Clow is a geek. He is a gamer, a comic book expert and former retailer, and freelance contributor to GeekNation.com, The Huffington Post, and Batman-On-Film.com. You can find his weekly piece Comics on Film every Wednesday right here at Movies.com. Check out his blog, and follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: