GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2nd Thoughts: Marvel’s Genre Play & Guessing the Future of the MCU

Guardians of the Galaxy
Credit: Marvel Studios

Having attended my second screening of Guardians of the Galaxy earlier this week, I’ve been writing down some second thoughts I had about the film and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Thursday I wrote about the somewhat disturbing part of Guardians no one seems to be talking about . Next I’ll be explaining while despite Marvel’s current coyness on the topic, the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy have to crossover in a future film. But right now it’s time for:

Part Two: The Current Guiding Principle of the MCU

The last week a ton of credit has been handed out to James Gunn, Kevin Feige, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman, 70s radio hits, and Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and a small army of digital animators for the breakout success of Guardians. And they all (and more) deserve whatever credit is being sent their way.

new Guardians of the Galaxy poster
new Guardians of the Galaxy poster
Credit: Marvel Studios

Another part of its success, however - and a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe model that its success may further solidify - is the studio’s emphasis on mining different movie genres as it concludes Phase 2 and approaches Phase 3. Guardians is mostly space opera, with a little bit of a prison break sub-genre thrown in, and its call backs to the most famous space opera of the all – Star Wars – were no accident. Even the posters were meant to invoke the most popular film series of all the time.

As many critics have pointed out, the actual plot of Guardians isn’t too far removed from the Avengers. It’s (among other things) the trappings of a now underutilized genre that gives the film some of its freshness.

And as the comic book adaptation field gets more crowded , superhero movie fatigue is something Marvel is certainly going to have to consider moving forward, but all indications are they already have a plan to proactively combat it.

Marvel made absolutely sure moviegoers knew the studio positioned April’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a call-back to the 70’s era political thrillers like Three Days of the Condor.

Credit: Marvel Studios

In recent weeks they’ve been making it clear next year’s Ant-Man is being positioned as a “heist” (or a caper) movie, while also emphasizing its generational mentor/mentee dynamic.

Marvel has all but officially announced Doctor Strange is their next new franchise bid (the Hollywood press is assuming it’ll launch in July 2016) and they’ve also made no secret of the fact that Strange was chosen because it gets them and Disney into the magical/mystical/supernatural realm.

Though as an aside, the specific flavor of supernatural tone Marvel chooses will be interesting to watch in the next couple of years. Kevin Feige has confirmed they’ve chosen solid-R horror director Scott Derrickson to helm the film, but you have to think the Disney-owned, bottom-line oriented studio has to be looking at the market space of the more family-friendly, solid PG-13 magical realm the conclusion of Warner Bros. Harry Potter franchise has opened up. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Perhaps one of the reasons a third Captain America has been officially announced and scheduled but a third Thor has not is because Marvel doesn’t quite know what to do yet with Thor 3 from a newly-emphasized genre perspective.

2013’s The Dark World received solid enough reviews upon its release and did solid enough business compared to the 2011 original, but in the wake of the success of The Winter Solider and now Guardians, fans and critics seem to be lobbing harsher retroactive criticism of the film, and perhaps one reason is because it didn’t have a unique genre angle. It didn’t feel different enough.

Marvel has probably squeezed as much God-on-Earth/fish-out-of-water juice as they’re going to get out of that fruit, so they might be biding their time coming up with a concept/genre play that just isn’t Thor third solo superhero adventure.

As we’ve suggested here in the past, Marvel should consider embracing Thor’s inner Lord of the Rings, and position Asgard of the big-screen successor of Middle Earth, setting Thor 3 entirely in Asgard (or at the very least the other non-Midgard realms) in a unique mix of horses, swords and sorcery, and science fiction.

With Loki secretly holding the throne, a full on civil war between Thor and his allies and the forces of Asgard under the control of Loki-Odin, perhaps with the Enchantress (anyone got with Charlize Theron's number?) further pulling some strings, could be a direction for Marvel to go in. Guardians proves Earth is no longer a required element to draw moviegoer interest, so how about “Thor: The War for Asgard?“

Go head Marvel, feel free to use that.

So keeping Marvel’s seeming preferences for genre plays in mind, maybe it helps point us in the direct of what new properties Marvel is going to launch next.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Black Panther has never been far from the discussion of Marvel characters awaiting their solo turn, but beside featuring a rare superhero lead of African descent (not a genre, per se), does Black Panther offer the potential for a new genre to play in the MCU sandbox? If Marvel astutely forgoes any ‘Black Panther goes to New York’ ambitions, it could.

Playing like a hybrid of the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, the modern Daniel Craig-led James Bond series, and the Mission Impossible franchise, Marvel could position the Black Panther as an international globetrotting hero, backed by high-tech gadgetry and acting as Wakanda’s one-man intelligence organization across exotic world locales, replete with the fancy cars and beautiful women the Bond series is known for.

Suave and badass King-slash-billionaire-slash-super spy might be unique and familiar enough to make it stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Somewhat similarly, sentiment seems to be growing for a Black Widow and/or Captain Marvel solo turn. Marvel, who makes a habit is keeping their cards close to their vest, has fueled the discourse by not coming right out and saying a female-led film is a priority, but until they announce an advance slate of films that doesn’t have one, fans probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions one way the other.

The strong returns of Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy no doubt has to be playing in Marvel’s mind, but women-led action isn’t really a ‘genre’ per se either, and a Black Widow movie might struggle to find a genre voice significantly different than The Winter Soldier.

Now of course, everything I just suggested for Black Panther could be applied to Black Widow – embrace her international superspy roots to launch the ‘Jane Bond’ franchise movie studios have been threatening for about for 30 years.

Or a Captain Marvel (again, calling Charlize Theron) film could embrace Carol Danvers’ Air Force pilot roots and make a play at the Top Gun-war film-military genre. Establish Danvers as the hottest of hot shot pilots stationed in a militarized war zone and then halfway through the film replace the fighter jet vs. fighter jet aerial dogfight action set pieces with Carol up against an enemy fighter squadron ... sans her plane.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Marvel cleverly used Rhodey’s straight-laced military man as a contrast to Tony Stark’s free-spirited nature, but a whole film set in the world of a more real world military (as opposed to the faux military of S.H.I.E.L.D.) could provide Marvel a unique setting to play in.

And while 2008’s Iron Man already did the superhero-in-an-aerial-dogfight and did it well, 8 or 9 years will have past since Iron Man (not to mention 2016 will be a whopping 30 years since Top Gun) so imagine what digital animators could do with the one women against a military fighter squadron?

Any which way Marvel Studios go with the characters they choose to try to launch new franchises, the smart money is on identifying what unused characters they have that are conducive to putting Marvel spins on familiar but reliable film genres.

Upcoming with the final part 3, we’ll tell you why despite what Marvel might be saying (or not saying) now, an Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy full-on franchise crossover is a virtual lock as the conclusion of Phase 3.

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