Guardians-of-the-Galaxylead
While most of Marvel’s movie enterprises of recent times – The Avengers, the Iron Man films, Captain America, Thor – have been fairly safe bets (in as much as they’ve all been based on well-known titles and characters that the average joe has heard of), a few weeks from now sees the release of the highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy movie, which is going to be very interesting for a host of reasons.
It’s been a while since there’s been so much hype and discussion about a movie so far ahead of its release; ever since the rumours that the project had been given the green light back in summer 2012, in fact. A big part of that is people’s utter uncertainty as to how this movie is going to work and why it was chosen.

Although I was more personally invested in the recent ‘Days of Future Past’ X-Men film, I remain very interested in seeing what GOTG turns out like and, like most commentators in the multitude of on-line communities and forums, I have no idea whether this is going to be something great or something terrible; I think, in part, this utter uncertainty is part of the excitement (as opposed to the vague indifference that I’ve felt towards most of the other Marvel movie offerings). Let’s call it… ‘Phantom Menace’ syndrome.

Most die-hard GOTG comic fans will probably have reasons to hate the movie; just as many X-Men fans aren’t overly fond of the film franchise. That’s unavoidable. Whether the uninitiated, average cinema-going public will ‘get it’ and respond favorably is another matter; and as far as the studio is concerned, that’s the real issue.

It will be interesting, creatively, to see what the end product is like, what the tone and style is, what the story details are. It will also be very interesting to see how well the movie does at the box office, as well as how it translates to what will be a mostly new audience. Whereas most non-comic book readers already had some minor knowledge of, say, Iron Man or Captain America, the vast majority of the movie-going audience will have little or no pre-knowledge of the GOTG comic-book, its characters or mythology.

A GOTG movie was, from the outset, a very peculiar choice by the Marvel studio for a feature film, given its relative obscurity. GOTG is one of those lesser, niche areas of the Marvel pantheon that even some self-proclaimed ‘comic book nerds’ tend not to be all that familiar with. Having said that, it’s a mistake to think of GOTG‘s setting or its principal characters as something ‘new’ or ‘novel’, which is what a lot of non-initiated commentators have been doing, typified by some comments I’ve read to the effect of “…has Marvel run out of ideas?”

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In fact, all of the main characters are long-established characters in the Marvel Universe. Starlord, Groot and the others all made their first appearances in the 1970s; Drax the Destroyer (above) debuted in 1972 in the pages of Iron Man 55 specifically. Gamora first appeared in 1975, and Rocket Racoon in 1982 in an issue of the Incredible Hulk. These aren’t newbies by any means; however, their life as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is relatively recent, the original Guardians of the Galaxy having been a creation of Arnold Drake and Gene Colan way back in 1969 and featuring a completely different set of characters.

On-line reactions from the largely uninitiated in forums and comment-sections have included a lot of head-scratching and bewilderment, along with comments like “…a talking racoon with guns? WTF?” and “…a talking tree.. this looks so stupid!” Even a friend of mine who is something of a film buff had a similar reaction when he first saw the GOTG trailer with me in the cinema, though his reaction was that this movie looks like too much of an all-American “frat-boy” exercise to appeal to him. I get where he’s coming from with that – had I been watching that trailer with no pre-knowledge of the GOTG comics or the characters I might’ve perceived it the same way.

It’s exactly this kind of response to the trailer that makes me so interested in what the response will be once the movie hits the cinemas; my interest at this point is therefore largely academic, though I do retain a level of investment as a comic-book fan too.

Having retired from avid comic-book reader status some years ago and settled into past-aficionado-and-now-casual-reader status, I find myself in the position of not having read much of the modern GOTG comic-book (but I’ve read some stuff; The Trial of Jean Grey, for example, The Galaxy’s Most Wanted, and The Legendary Star-Lord), but nevertheless being very familiar with the characters and their mythologies, the backdrop and the canon. I have a great deal of love for much of the cosmic arena GOTG is about; a long-time Silver Surfer fan, with an affinity for such past glories as the Infinity War and Infinity Crusades, the Warlock & the Infinity Watch title and a longstanding fascination particularly with the Watchers, who I doubt will be a part of this movie (or of any future Marvel big-screen outing), as well as such cosmic Marvel players as the Kree, the Skrulls and the Shiar.

The overall impression at this stage, however, is that existing fans of the comic-book are enthusiastic about the movie; certainly I’ve had that impression from the GOTG Facebook community. There isn’t the same scepticism towards this cinematisation as, say, many X-Men die-hards harbour about the big-screen incarnations of the X-Men world. Which is curious; but it may merely be a case of optimism and well-wishing that will quickly turn to bitterness and resentment if the film turns out to be awful or to fail to capture what’s loved about the comic.

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As far as the characters listed for this GOTG movie are concerned, I’ve always liked Gamora (and Pip the Troll, who probably won’t be anywhere in sight), and I’ve always liked Drax the Destroyer, but only in his ‘stupid’ state; those unaware of the fictional history won’t know what that means (but for those who are, I’ve always felt Drax’s best era as a character was after he was killed by Moondragon and revived by Kronos, having great strength but being reduced to the mental level of a child).

But judging by what I’ve seen in the trailer, Drax does NOT look right. He looks like a really bad adaptation, in fact. As for Gamora, I’m doubtful the character will be very well captured on-screen or that Zoe Saldana is a good fit, though it remains to be seen.

The main character everyone’s talking about is Rocket Racoon; one of the Marvel universe’s finest, if oddest, creations. Some early commentators – those presumably not already familiar with the character – have reacted dubiously to the ‘talking racoon with the guns’, considering the idea ludicrous, even comical. In part Rocket Racoon was always supposed to be somewhat comical, somewhat tongue-in-cheek; but all the more cool for it. We know Rocket Racoon works on the printed page; will he work on the screen or will he – as some are predicting – come off like a silly joke? Well, having him voiced by Bradley Cooper doesn’t help – that little detail made me wince when I heard it.

Even so, judging by the trailer the racoon’s transition from illustrated character to CGI may just work; may just be one of the movie’s unlikely successes. If he sounds like a silly idea, then just remember – on paper Yoda would’ve sounded silly too; that was until you watched The Empire Strikes Back. However, if Rocket Racoon is rendered badly, it’ll certainly be one of the main sore points existing GOTG fans will have with the movie.

As yet there’s no talk of Adam Warlock, Quasar, Moondragon or some of the other classic cosmic players; or the Silver Surfer (though apparently there are rights issues with the Silver Surfer, so he won’t be eligble to appear in Marvel movies for the foreseeable future). There are rumours that Iron Man makes an appearance, and that one of Marvel’s classic supervillains, the death-worshipping Thanos, is involved in the movie, allegedly as a set-up for future Avengers movies. Further rumours on-line indicate that the Infinity Gems might also feature in the film and that this might be playing into other aspects of Marvel Studios’ “Phase Three” productions. This is a fascinating possibility, as involving the Infinity Gems suggests Adam Warlock needing to be involved at some stage and might even hint at elements of the aforementioned Infinity War and its related storylines.

That said, it makes sense for the Marvel movie machine to begin to expand into outer space, as a great deal of Marvel’s mythology – and some of its best ever storylines – are more cosmic than earthbound in nature; the Silver Surfer mythology, the original Captain Marvel, the Kree-Skrull War, the Watchers, etc. It’s nothing new to Marvel’s printed-page adherents, but to everyone else, taking the Marvel movie-scape in a more Star Wars direction will make a change from the nature of the movies that have been released to date.

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So will the studio’s big gamble pay off? Will this GOTG movie work? Will it backfire like an ill-judged punchline? Will Rocket Racoon become a great, loved cinema character? Will it come off more like an expensive joke? Or will it raise the bar? We’ll all have to find out in a few weeks time.

But that GOTG has been made at all could be an indicator that much of the rest of the Marvel library may well get the big-screen makeover in the coming years too, including titles we might’ve otherwise considered unlikely; among them the likes of Doctor Strange, the Black Panther (rumours persist about that one), Ms Marvel, and others. Whether this would be a good thing or not depends entirely on whether you’re in the pro movie or the anti movie camp; myself, I’m not sure I’m in either camp. Personally I’ve always had mixed feelings about cinematic adaptations of comic books, partly because the results have themselves been such a mixed bag and partly because no such film can ever really better the comic-book source, it can only ‘reimagine’ or ‘reinvent’ it.

And I get more and more nervous every time some new venture is announced regarding Marvel Studios’ film output; it always feels like a new opportunity for a classic comic-book entity to be mistreated or diminished in transition from illustrated page to movie screen, the misfires to date being as noteworthy as the successes (even beyond the dull thuds that I never really cared about anyway, such as Ghost Rider and Punisher, examples of big-screen adaptations that added nothing to their comic-book source’s legacies include the Hulk movies and the bitterly disappointing Green Lantern, though the latter admittedly wasn’t a Marvel crime).

Even within some broadly enjoyable films are nevertheless specific misfires that irritate; I’m sorry but Scarlett Johansson just doesn’t cut it as the Black Widow. Even the X-Men movies, broadly positive, have had some of these misjudgements that grate. So I’m always a little guarded when I hear about the next cinematic project Marvel has lined up; when I hear, for example, that Thanos is going to be villain in the third Avengers movie, I wonder if a big-screen Thanos having to be voiced by an actor is simply going to diminish that character’s potency. Or if a Black Panther movie that doesn’t meet the grade is going to diminish my affection for that character. As a case in point, I’ve just looked at recent on-set images of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver from the second Avengers movie and it’s pretty wince-inducing.

Some of the same concerns came to mind when I first heard about the Guardians of the Galaxy film; but I look forward to seeing whether those concerns are valid or not.
I already heaped a ton of (sincere) praise on X-Men: Days of Future Past a month or two ago, so saying the GOTG film is going to be “the best superhero movie since X-Men: DOFP” is a bit of a silly statement; but I do have a sense that this film might be a bar-raiser for (non Mutant-based)  Marvel movies – and speaking as apparently the 1 person that didn’t like the Avengers movie,  it’d be overdue…

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