Why the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise is succeeding

Goofy “Guardians” humor saves the action film genre from an impending excess of High Seriousness. ("Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2" movie review: Part 1 of 2)

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Excerpt from a Marvel/Disney promo poster for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (2017)

WASHINGTON, July 2, 2017 – Released in the U.S. in May of 2017, Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a good but not quite great sequel that nonetheless allows the franchise to grow while providing evidence that James Gunn, who directed both “Guardians” films, is growing as both a director and a storyteller.

To understand just why and how this oddball cinematic mix is working in a genre dominated by “name” superheroes, we need first to go back to the evolution of the original to discover how an also-ran set of comic book super anti-heroes suddenly became popular on the silver screen.

A few years back, when Marvel/Disney initially announced that “Guardians of the Galaxy” would be their next cinematic venture, slating the film’s debut for 2014, the studio had just completed what’s referred to as the “First Phase” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While Marvel characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the rest of the Avengers might not possess the cultural capital of DC’s Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, it didn’t take much digging to get familiar with their history. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, were considerably more obscure. True, they’d garnered some critical acclaim during their several decades of existence. But they’d never been close to the Avengers in terms of comic book sales.


That’s why the initial announcement of the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film was a bit of a surprise. The general public had little familiarity with the characters, a superhero team that included a gun-toting raccoon and a walking tree. The film risked becoming Marvel’s first real flop. But it was actually the studio’s initial attempt at creating a broader, more expansive Cinematic Universe.

When they declared all systems go for the original Guardians installment, Marvel had put out enough commercially and critically successful movies at that point that they could pitch pretty much anything to movie audiences and at least expect them to take a look. They were right. The masses bought into “Guardians of the Galaxy” (The Movie), which ended up accomplishing something their comic counterparts never achieved: roaring success, not only at the box office but also among superhero movie fans looking for something different.

The original “Guardians of the Galaxy” film was bright, buzzy and fun. In a movie universe that depended on a winning combination of smart-ass quips and big action scenes, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” dialed it up to 11.

Initial critical skepticism was quickly replaced by admiration for the film’s ragtag assortment of oddball characters. Better yet, despite sharing the standard structural elements common to most Marvel films, “Guardians” had a different look and feel. Not weighed down by taking place on Earth, the original film gave the audience an impression of galactic limitlessness, even if the first installment didn’t really take advantage of it.

These factors played into the building anticipation for the inevitable sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Marvel has rightly built a reputation for making its films fun. Even in some of the darker affairs like the last two Captain America films, Marvel films always toss in enough lighthearted comic moments to brighten, the mood, at least temporarily, for the audience.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” (the original) actually kicked it up a notch to the point where the first film feels, at times, like straight comedy. This is still something of a novel approach in an action/adventure film. But it also is a welcome antidote to action and superhero films that take on an uncomfortably hyper-serious approach to both genres.

Next: Rockin’ through the Galaxy with a 1970s beat.

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