Like most of us in that weird spot between Gen-X and Millennials, I was a massive Star Wars fan as a kid, and even going into my adulthood. Special Editions and prequels, however, soiled my impressions of the once holy trilogy. Many times I've expected something to scratch that Star Wars itch lingering from my childhood, but have been regularly disappointed.
Films have come and gone, being enjoyable and even rewatchable, but without the cultural impact due to either mismanagement by the studios, failures to deliver on promises, or just something not clicking. Guardians of the Galaxy, it seems, is something a little different, and with Disney's marketing powerhouse behind it, could finally create the zeitgeist I have been seeking. Here's why:
While JJ Abrams has taken neglected and abused franchises and given them a warm meal and a place to exist and convalesce (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, Star Wars), he hasn't really lit any of them on fire with creative ideas. JJ Abrams plays it safe and shoots for the vast middle, recycling tropes and utilizing well known pop-culture references.
James Gunn, on the other hand, is a director who wants to take risks, wants to engage his audience and wants to defy expectations. Gunn pushes the envelope. Just look at something like Slither - what could have easily been a forgotten mid-winter horror thriller instead picked up a cult following through its tongue-in-cheek approach to the genre. The Troma spirit is all over the film. And while Movie 43 may have been a ho-hum affair, Super was a deliciously dark comedy.
Just like having JJ Abrams at the helm of the Star Wars sequel, Lucasfilm is offering something safe by having the series bring back the cast of the original trilogy for another run (although, after the backlash against Indy 4, maybe bringing back geriatric versions of the characters isn't the best idea). Guardians, by contrast, features Rocket Raccoon, a CGI critter who will wash the bad taste of Jar-Jar out of our mouths, Star Lord, that perfect blend of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, Gamora, who blows Princess Leia's damsel in distress out of the water, Drax, whose badassery and complete lack of understanding figurative language makes him both terrifying and hilarious, and Groot, with his big heart and strength along with his limited vocabulary reminds me of Chewbacca. While Star Wars VII is giving us the actors who played the original roles, Guardians is giving us the character types exactly how we want to see them.
When Marvel announced Guardians of the Galaxy, one of my close friends and a guy whose depth of comics knowledge is almost embarrassing, discussed his tentative excitement, but more his misgivings. Not for the property itself seeing harm, but for Marvel perhaps being unwise in choosing to adapt the series to screen. It's a relatively obscure title, and one that had it flopped wouldn't have been damaged, but Marvel is in powerful need of continuing to release above-average films in order to further prove that its partnership with Disney is capable of putting out solid, well-made hits and subtly heap further scorn on current license-holders for its other titles: Fox (X-Men and Fantastic Four) and Sony (Spider-Man).
Based on everything we are seeing, however, Guardians looks to potentially be a sleeper hit, with its funny marketing campaign, targeting general audiences through letting the actors shine naturally in their promotional appearances, and not over-hyping, people won't be sick of the film at its release, despite being a late-summer offering.
Contrast with Star Wars VII where even if Irvin Kershner rose from the dead and had a time machine to bring along early-80s versions of the Star Wars cast, the potential for let-down is still huge, although, let's be honest, nothing could compare with how bad the prequels were.
I attended Marvel's 17 minute preview screening of Guardians and was struck by how naturally the humor flowed throughout the entire piece. The characters had a great rapport; the dialogue was crisp, and there were plenty of subtly funny moments that flowed smoothly with the more obvious jokes. It was a feeling similar to when I watch Back to the Future or Ghostbusters. I laughed and didn't feel like I was laughing at some inside joke every time, trying to drag my friends along. It just all worked.
Guardians of the Galaxy arrives at what could be a very important moment. If it can clear the hurdle of being a head-and-shoulders top draw on its opening weekend and then blows perpetual shoot-for-the-middle-crowd-pleaser Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out of the water, it could very well be sitting pretty for several weeks as the summer winds down. These are, of course, pretty big ifs, but the possibility isn't nearly as remote as one might think.
Obviously, this is all conjecture on my part. Guardians of the Galaxy looks like it will be amazing, but who knows, maybe JJ Abrams might surprise me. Either way, as long as one of them turns out to be an enjoyable movie-going experience, the real winners are the audiences.