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'Guardians of the Galaxy' trailer looks great, but will it be a hit for Marvel?

The first Guardians of the Galaxy trailer premiered on Jimmy Kimmel Live last night and it looks amazing. The story of Star-Lord, a refugee from Earth of dubious moral standing and his motley crew of friends which include a sentient tree and PO’d raccoon, seemed an odd choice for a Marvel film. But the tone of the trailer wisely emphasizes the inherent comedy of the premise, and Chris Pratt seems ideally cast as a smart aleck headphone-enthusiast who appears equal parts Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Also, there’s John C. Reilly and everything is better with a little John C. Reilly.

Still, Guardians of the Galaxy is an interesting gambit for Marvel. Even though the movie is almost six months away from opening, it’s never too early to start speculation about whether it will be a hit or a flop.

Why it will flop

People fear what they don’t know - There are nearly as many characters in the Marvel universe as there are stars in the sky, so why did they choose these ones? If Marvel was looking to move into the realm of sci-fi action, someone like the better-known Silver Surfer would seem to be a more logical choice. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” comic was mostly unknown to all but die-hard Marvel fans, so the general public is even less likely to have heard of them. For all intents and purposes, this is an original story and as the somewhat disappointing box office for Pacific Rim showed, the public isn’t always eager to embrace what they don’t know, even if it appears familiar.

Marvel is due for a flop - The Avengers was one of the highest-grossing movies ever made and the two Marvel films that have followed -- Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World -- were both big hits last year. But these were sequels to movies that fans had already embraced. Branching off to make a movie in which one of the main characters is a tree who doesn’t speak except to say his name could be perceived as hubristic on Marvel’s part.

No proven stars - Chris Pratt is the center of the movie and like the characters themselves, he’s still mostly unknown. Aside from a few small roles in movies like The Five-Year Engagement and Her, Pratt’s biggest part up to this point has been his role as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. He’s fantastic within that ensemble (which is easily the best on a comedy) but has yet to prove himself as someone who can carry a movie. The biggest name involved in Guardians of the Galaxy is Bradley Cooper, who voices the violent raccoon. Reread that last sentence and tell me this sounds like a movie destined to be a hit.

Why it will be a hit

It turns out to be the rare sci-fi/ action/ comedy that works - The Avengers was pretty much destined to be a hit from the moment it was announced but what turned it into one of the biggest movies ever was the strong authorial voice of writer-director Joss Whedon. Beyond it’s thrilling action sequences, The Avengers was frequently funny and occasionally outright hilarious. Guardians of the Galaxy looks to place an even larger emphasis on the laughs and, at least in the trailer, the jokes land. Movies that can deliver legitimate laughs along with the necessary action tend to have a longer shelf-life than one-note shoot-em-ups.

Don’t underestimate the power of the Marvel brand - Even if the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy are mostly unknown, the name of the movie studio behind it isn’t. Even more crucially, Marvel is becoming known for the quality of their films, to the point you could argue that they’re second-only to Pixar. Just as audiences have come to trust the Pixar brand as a bastion of first-class storytelling, Marvel is doing an outstanding job of building their cinematic universe with directors who add their own stamp to the material. James Gunn, who expertly mixed gross-out humor with gross-out horror in Slither, was an inspired choice for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Chris Pratt has already started to breakout - OK, so I just argued that Pratt was an unknown a couple of paragraphs ago, but it is worth noting that he voiced the main character in The LEGO Movie, which is presently shattering all types of box-office records for February. Much of Pratt’s comedic persona shines through in his animated character (sweet-natured, confident, but slightly dim) and the well-reviewed movie is building word-of-mouth even for adults. In other words, people seem to like what they’re seeing (or rather hearing) from Pratt.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this film turns out and how it’s received. Guardians of the Galaxy opens in the theaters on Aug. 1.

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