Film If you've seen MARVEL's Guardians of the Galaxy already you'll know that it ranks with Inception, Gravity and Boyhood as one of the greatest film exploits of all time, one of those epoch changing moments in cinema which can do nothing but inspire awe. Much of this has to do with both the film itself which is as spectacular a space adventure as we could hope it might be based on the trailers, but also the effect it potentially has on the film business and the nature of the blockbuster. If MARVEL's Captain America: The First Avenger was innovative in how it extemporised the narrative synergy between film and television, MARVEL's Guardians of the Galaxy has the potential to change everything.
Such hyperbole probably need some explanation and in short order, here it is. MARVEL is the shit.
Guardians made over $90m in its opening weekend in the US. It's beaten by Transformers: Age of Extinction so far in annual totals but its the second biggest opening of the year and looks to have a huge second weekend. But, whisper it, this was never a sure thing. Transformers was a sure thing because even people who hate what Bay's done to the characters will have gone and it has a wide popular appeal with children. Plus its the fourth installment in a franchise which has been massive despite the variable quality of the product. Transformers was a sure thing. Transformers was always going to be a massive opening. People will go and see Transformers.
Guardians was not like this. The trailers were excellent as was the poster marketing. Arguably it had the best marketing campaign since all of the films listed above. But it was never a sure thing. Even up to a few weeks ago I was seeing online commentary, professional and amateur which talked about it being a risk. No one was sure. This Forbes article tries to have it both ways. Nothing about the film made sense in relation to what people know about the film business. Only one of the main characters is human, and two of the others are a digitally animated talking racoon and a tree. The trailers betrayed a certain offbeat humour more akin to the cultiness of Firefly/Serenity, which have only really found an audience amongst the kind of people who like that kind of this.
Essentially it's asking the audience to accept the stuff they like about PiXAR films in a "real world" setting, in the middle of space, amongst giant alien empires filled with masses of preprepared mythology. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings accepted, these are not the sort of things popular audiences like. John Carter (of Mars) is a prime example of this kind of film, and although it's not quite as good as Guardians, it's still better than Transbloodyformers. The storylines aren't dissimilar either in some respects and toally they're not that different either. But a nervy ad campaign meant people didn't come even though that was also made by Disney. If people didn't come to that why would they to this?
People came. Boy did people come. Look at them on the Twitters talking about this being the new Star Wars, even suggesting JJ's wasting his time because whatever he's doing can't be as good as this (which would make the Star Wars studio pretty nervous if it wasn't for the fact that it's the same studio). It helps that the film itself is akin to the new Star Wars capturing quite a bit of the same humour and wonder of the original trilogy which the prequels sumerilly failed to offer. It's funny, poignant, has some jaw-dropping visual moments and more importantly you forget the racoon and tree are being animated only now and then marvelling at just how accurate Rocket's fir is.
And in coming, they disproved the expectations of what we'll call the mass audience are tolerant of. The humour in this is offbeat and like I said the trailers told the audience that it was offbeat. But they came and they came some more and social media suggested their friends come too. Right up until I went yesterday, people I wouldn't imagine in a hundred years would see Guardians signalled their intention to go and afterwards tweeted how awesome it was in some way or other. Having seen it myself I still can't quite believe this has happened. This is a cult film. It has all the elements of a cult film. It's practically a remake of Space Truckers. Yet there we are. Over $90m opening weekend.
Now the previous MARVEL films will have something to do with this, what with MARVEL being a PIXAR like brand now. But Captain America and Guardians are such different films you can't imagine there would be much crossover. Tonally, Guardians is effectively a Troma film (as it would be given the career origins of the director) on a massive budget. It's the kind of film which you'd find unheralded at Blockbuster in the mid-90s with c-list actors including Stephen Dorff directed by an auteur whose next film is The Incredible Ice Cream Suit but which more than lives up to your low expectations and which you know must have looked even better in widescreen before the studio panned and scanned the thing on the cheap. Actually, no, that is Space Truckers. $90m.
Amazing. Game changing.
It's game changing for a number of reasons.
Not too long ago one of the blogs I read joked when seeing the plans DC has for their characters in cinema that MARVEL should just make a Squirrel Girl film to rub their faces in it, which was became even funnier when it emerged that MARVEL had copyrighted the character meaning that she's likely to turn up in film or on television in some capacity. But the point is whereas before Guardians no one would think it possible that a character whose main power is the control of squirrels, who has cameoed in a Fantastic Four cartoon as a visual joke to demonstrate how low down the pecking order their recruitment process for a team replacement had sunk now looks like a sure bet.
Even Ant-Man looks like it could be a sure thing at this point even though in no way should they even be making it. But Guardians gives them the flexibility to and make it another massive release. Apparently yet more screenwriters are taking a pass at it, which is what happens when you have to replace your director. If anything even at this point Ant-Man looks like about as appetising as the failed Gen 13 pilot with Alicia Witt but even turned out to be pretty good. All Ant-Man needs to be now is pretty good and it'll open huge or at least huge enough for the whole thing not to have seemed like the massive waste of time it currently looks like. Edgar Wright might even agree to direct the sequel, though probably not.
Right now, Disney's MARVEL could pluck any of the characters they have the rights to and turn it into a film and people will go. They're still being cautious and they have every right to be. They're not greenlighting projects left right and centre even though Black Widow has to be on the cards now, especially when you add in Lucy's opening weekend. The trailer for Lucy ran before Guardians at FACT yesterday and as much as I enjoyed it and can't wait to see it, there's not one moment when I didn't wish it was a trailer for Black Widow. Never mind Squirrel Girl, MARVEL at this point could probably make a Captain Barracuda film work and he's a pirate. Obviously.
As a sidebar, Kevin Feige is still prevaricating on the point, but Guardians's screenwriter says on Twitter that she worked on a treatment in 2010/2011 for a film, the kind of statement someone only makes on the Twitters if they've been given the go ahead from someone to make that kind of statement even if she says that its not in active development, like a governmental leak designed to sound out some new policy. At 80 odd retweets and fifty-five favourites its not exactly gone viral, but the news sites picked up on it, and you can imagine someone at MARVEL development is watching the reaction. My guess is they're waiting for Captain America to have its threequel before offering Black Widow up as a replacement.
Sorry, second indulgence, but that's my theory about what MARVEL's doing here. They're not thinking about the market in terms of characters but tones. Now that Iron Man 3's shuffled through they're launching Ant-Man another film about a technoscientist. Black Widow or even Hawkeye won't be launched until Cap is done because it would be strange to have another SHIELD agent based film series on the go. I'm not sure what will happen after Thor, although you could argue the Doctor Strange film carries on the fantasy/horror element. Guardians truly is offering a different genre to all of them. But don't be surprised if in ten years when that's done, and after Fantastic Four tanks and they reintegrate the rights that we'll get Silver Surfer.
Anyway, they're sticking to two or three films a year which is a shame but probably all they can usefully produce without the quality dipping. When the MCU was originally announced I remember one thought being that there would be a series of prestige films based on the bigger characters then smaller budget projects for the c-listers. Arguably these smaller budget projects have migrated to television. But think on that. Agent Carter and the Daredevil series exist in the same universe as Guardians and Thor, which they do in the comics of course, but this is unprecedented in film and television. But I've already covered that at some length elsewhere, so let's not do that again.
Because audiences turned up for Guardians, it means that studio expectations, notably at MARVEL but also elsewhere should widen, hopefully widen, and they'll take more risks with the kind of films they'll produce and the projects which look slightly offbeat may well get greenlit now [see this io9 piece]. My hope has been that MARVEL in particular will range out into other genres but set in the MARVEL universe and there's been some of that on television in the Netflix deal but I'd love to see a cop drama or rom com set in the MCU for the big screen. I expect the question they'd ask is exactly why they would but if nothing else Guardians proves that a MARVEL film doesn't have to have superheroes in it in the traditional sense, even aliens, to be successful.
But what does that mean for the other studios? Given their idiotic decision to not fall in with MARVEL and attempt to construct their own cinematic universes around the characters they have (though I still wonder if Disney and Sony attempted a proper deal over Spider-man which fell through) Guardians will either have a positive effect on them or it won't. It depends on the percentage of the audience who went because it was the next installment of the films set in the MCU or simply with the MARVEL logo on the front. That I simply don't know.
The other game change is in how DC reacts. Up until this point they've been pottering along knowing that MARVEL's doing well but straight on with their plans. But Guardians has to have given them pause not least because of comments like this found on Youtube under a copy of the trailer for Guardians:
Yes, exactly. Superman and Batman are top draw characters which is why DC are so desperate to make films about them even though there have already been plenty of films about them and now MARVEL have come along and turned the equivalent of their Legion of Superheroes into a film and made it one of the most successful films of all time. This shouldn't happen. If DC are pinning their hopes on the same-olds it certainly wasn't even on their radar. After writing that sentence, now I would be more excited to see a Legion of Superheroes film that Batman again even starring Ben Affleck.
But no one is excited about Superman v Batman that I can see. Despite the release of the various images at Comic Con and the teaser footage with the glowy eyes and some ensuing excitement, I simply don't see the same level of excitement about that film than for pretty much every MCU release. Everyone has something to say about everything, but people are already talking about Guardians 2 and what might happen in Guardians 2 in ways which I simply don't see with SvB or whatever it's called this week amongst the non-geeks, or should I say the people who would identify as geeks in the old usage. That's a problem for DC and its unsolvable.
The other problem DC has is that its only making one film for release in 2016 [correction: actually two see below]. MARVEL will have at least four or five films out in the meantime not including the other version of MARVEL from the other studios. Which will either mean that audiences are sick of superheroes anyway by 2016 and will simply shrug in the face of Kal-El and Bruce or the intervening films are so awesome they'll still shrug and wonder why they should care. As Man of Steel shows, they will make money, but purely from a business perspective, taking into account the television series, in film terms they're sitting on a whole universe full of characters and still doing nothing with them. HAHAHAHAHAHA.
Updated 07/08/2014 No sooner had I posted this and gone to bed had it been announced that DC have effectively blinked and moved Batman v Superman from its original release day of the 25th March 2016 opposite the third Captain America film to late March. Deadline also reports they've offered up release dates for a raft of projects through 2020, none of which have titles yet but which exists to show that they aren't sitting on these characters and they do have some ideas.
Neither Variety or Deadline make the connection but I find it inconceivable that this announcement which has come under a week after the release of Guardians has nothing to do with Guardians. The release dates will already have been decided but the fact of their announcement has to be connected, doesn't it? Either way, in just ten years we've come to the point were DC actively believe a Captain America threequel would beat a film starring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman at the box office. MARVEL is the shit.