A lot of people are saying “Guardians of the Galaxy” is this generation’s “Star Wars.” I’m not sure that’s the case, or that anything could be this generation’s “Star Wars.” Some people forget just what a game-changer “Star Wars” and, two years earlier, “Jaws,” were. Those two movies solidified summertime as a time for big-screen escapist fare and proved that people would pay to see it.
Others say that “Guardians” is this generation’s “The Last Starfighter” but I think that’s selling “Guardians” short. As fond as my memories of “Starfighter” are, I think “Guardians” is a better movie.
So what role does “Guardians” fill?
First of all, it’s a really good summer movie. It’s good-natured and funny and full of action.
Secondly, it’s a sure-footed next milestone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it only slyly references the quest for the Infinity Stones – the sources of power that will, almost certainly lead Thanos to Earth in the third “Avengers” movie, probably in 2018 – it keeps that subplot to the first three phases of Marvel movies in moviegoers’ minds.
Thirdly, it expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s how:
The comics published by Marvel in the past half-century-plus have covered a lot of territory, literally and figuratively speaking.
There’s the street-level superheroes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil, dealing with maniacal villains and street punks alike. The non-Marvel Cinematic Universe “Spider-Man” movies and Marvel’s upcoming Netflix series like “Daredevil” map out this world. (They’re the Marvel counterparts of Batman, for you DC lovers out there.)
There’s the global superheroes, like the Avengers, who have the power to face threats to the entire world. The non-MCU heroes like “Fantastic Four” also fall into this category, as does DC’s Superman and Justice League.
What “Guardians” does is give Marvel Studios a beachhead in the cosmic universe where the comic books have played for a half-century.
There’s always been some crossover among all these Marvel realms, such as when Galactus, devourer of worlds, shows up and is tackled by the FF. Cosmic threat comes to global heroes.
But quite often, the links between the cosmic and Earth-based heroes have been only tenuous. Captain Marvel or the Silver Surfer or Warlock show up and fight and eventually team up with the FF or the Avengers to face a menace like the Kree-Skrull War, but by the end of the story, things are back to a Marvel status quo and the Avengers are dealing with Earth-based villains like Doctor Doom.
“Guardians” plunges us headlong into that cosmic Marvel universe with only occasional looks back at Earth.
I won’t recap the plot I’m sure you’re familiar with by now or even go on and on with my thoughts about “Guardians.” Director James Gunn had made a fun, “Star Wars”-ian adventure pitting an unlikely band of heroes against evil forces. Along the way, the movie introduces, more smoothly than most would have thought possible, fantastic creatures like Rocket Racoon, a small but ferocious animal with a pitiable past and a love of big guns, and Groot, a walking, talking (well, a little) tree creature. Space raccoon and gentle plant-based giant you say? Sure, why not. It’s a testament to Gunn’s handling of the characters and plot of “Guardians” that what the characters are matter less than who they are.
If you remember, Thanos, Marvel’s go-to cosmic bad guy, showed up at the end of “The Avengers” to take credit for pitting an invading alien army against Earth and grin at the thought of courting death.
Thanos wants the Tesseract – the Cosmic Cube in the comics – that the Red Skull wielded in “Captain America” and Loki sought in “The Avengers.” Along with the Aether, the cosmic power from “Thor: The Dark World,” and other Infinity Stones, Thanos can make the Infinity Gauntlet, a weapon of unimaginable power. It’s a certainty that will be the major plot point of the third “Avengers” movie.
One of the most amusing things about “Guardians” is that much of the history and power of the Infinity Stones is laid out midway through the movie … but to the protagonists and antagonists of “Guardians,” who don’t even know as much as Captain America and Iron Man about the importance of the Stones but know a thing to keep away from bad guys when they see one.
So the collected Guardians, led by the effortlessly charming Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, take on Ronan, an upstart ally of Thanos, in an effort to keep a handle on their particular Infinity Stone and keep it away from Thanos.
It’s an effort that will continue for another four years before the contest for the Stones pits Avengers – and likely other allies – against Thanos in the third Avengers movie, which will likely act as capper to the first three phases of big-screen Marvel.
“Guardians” is so much fun, so funny, so charming, that it carries all the responsibility of furthering the over-arching plot of big-screen Marvel as if it were a feather. Despite its many accomplishments, that might be the movie’s handiest achievement.
By the way, I wanted to mention Marvel’s other comic-book universes, besides street-level, global and cosmic playgrounds, because the big-screen Marvel universe will no doubt incorporate them as well.
(I won’t get into a couple of lesser-known Marvel comic book universes here because, frankly, I don’t think we’ll see big-screen versions of Marvel’s romance and western comic worlds anytime soon.)
We’re all but certain to see Marvel’s mystical and horror universes come into play in movies before long, perhaps in a combined venture.
The studio has already named a director for its “Dr. Strange” movie, about a physician who became a master of the mystic arts and fought supernatural creatures. It’ll be interesting to see who the studio picks to play the part because Strange could be as much of an anchor for ongoing Marvel movies as Robert Downey Jr. has been as Tony Stark.
A “Strange” movie would not only introduce the mystical and supernatural Marvel universes to the big screen but could encompass the company’s long history of horror characters, some of whom regularly cross paths with heroes like Spider-Man (I’m looking at you, Moebius the Living Vampire) but operate in a realm that ranges from the dark corners of the Earth to other dimensions. It’s a world of magic – already explained in the “Thor” movies as simply science that humans can’t understand – and wild creatures.
If the idea seems strange to you, consider how strange a space raccoon and a talking tree might have seemed before this record-breaking opening weekend for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Artist Mauricio Abril imagines just how much Spider-Man wants to play with his colleagues the Avengers.
Alas, Marvel sold the rights to Sony and Spidey is in his own playground.
In the meantime, check out Abril’s wonderful art.
I’m not one of those fans that has to declare a victor in the war between Marvel and DC. They’re both doing well – if very differently – in particular areas outside comics, including live-action movies and TV and animation.
Marvel’s big-screen universe is firing on all cylinders through a timetable that, if we’re to believe a recent interview with mastermind Kevin Feige, is loosely planned through 2028. The producers of Marvel movie outliers like the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” series are trying to build their own universes, although that could be a challenge. I still wish we’d see the universes combined on screen someday.
As for DC, Warner Bros. is flat-out struggling to build a cohesive movie universe. The “Man of Steel” sequel featuring Batman – with Wonder Woman and Cyborg and possibly other characters in supporting roles – could be cool or it could fall as flat as “Green Lantern.” And DC has just announced that director Zach Snyder will follow the “Man of Steel” sequel with a “Justice League” movie.
DC’s plans feel a little rushed, with none of the universe-building that Marvel has engaged in with its “Avengers” lead-ins and follow-ups. But maybe it’ll turn out nifty.
On TV, there’s no question that “Arrow,” the second-season CW adaptation of Green Arrow, is the best superhero series ever.
And over on ABC, “Agents of SHIELD” – after a first half of this debut season that felt like wheel-spinning or slow burn, depending on how charitable you might be – is building to what might be a genuinely thrilling climax.
Both series have three episodes left this season. Here are some thoughts:
“Arrow”: After setting up Slade (Deathstroke) Wilson as the good-guy-turned-bad-guy this season, the series has let Slade run rampant on Oliver Queen and his city, family and team. Last week’s episode ended with Slade killing Oliver’s mother, Moira, in a cruel mirror to the “choice” Oliver was given by Ivo on the island.
What we want to see: More DC characters – including Ravager, pictured above, who appears in “City of Blood,” the next episode – more twists, more peril, more return visits from past favorites and more triumph for Team Arrow.
What we don’t want to see: An easy way out for anybody.
“SHIELD”: Spinning off events in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “SHIELD” finds itself in a world where SHIELD itself is in shambles. The agents are on the run, striking back at enemy organization HYDRA and building alliances. All the while, they’re dealing with the treacherous Agent Ward, who has turned out to be a HYDRA agent and has been killing SHIELD agents right and left.
What we want to see: Well, we already know Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) returns in this week’s episode, “Nothing Personal,” and Samuel L. Jackson is supposed to return as Nick Fury in “Beginning of the End,” the season finale set for May 13. So we’re getting return visits from some favorites. We also want more revelations, including more big-picture tie-ins to the movie universe.
What we don’t want to see: The redemption of Agent Ward. We want him and Agent Garrett (the great Bill Paxton) to continue as our favorite HYDRA turncoats into the second season.
The longterm big picture for both series – if “SHIELD” returns for a second season – could be fantastic. “SHIELD” will be building toward the May 2015 premiere of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
And although it’s unlikely, it’s possible Warners will tie “Arrow” to its big-screen franchise in some way. Warners could do a whole lot worse – and likely will – if it ignores the universe created for the small screen.
Here’s a pointless exercise but maybe a fun one.
I decided to rank, in order of how much I enjoyed them/how good I thought they were, the big-screen Marvel movies.
It’s not too hard to tell that I prefer the official Marvel Cinematic Universe movies over the random Fox and Sony movies, I know.
A few provisos:
I’m not dipping back into pre-history far enough to drag “Howard the Duck” into this. And I haven’t seen it in a couple decades.
And I’m not including the 1994 “Fantastic Four” movie because it wasn’t released – I’ve only seen it on a bootleg DVD bought at a convention – and it doesn’t belong on this list any more than the awful “Captain America” TV movies do. Same for the “Blade” movies, which had their moments but seem as remote as the 1944 “Captain America” serial now.
Be aware, I’ve only glimpsed moments of the “Ghost Rider” movies on TV. And I’ve never seen the “Punisher” movies at all.
Two lists: First, just the “official” Marvel movies, then the list with the non-Marvel-overseen movies mixed in.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Thor: The Dark World
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 3
Iron Man 2
If you add the other post-2000 Marvel movies that aren’t part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe into the mix, it’s still weighted pretty heavy toward the official Marvel canon.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Thor: The Dark World
X-Men: First Class
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 3
The Amazing Spider-Man
Iron Man 2
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Looking at that list, it seems like “Iron Man 3” is way too far down. But maybe not. I need to see it again.
Something tells me my list will see a big shake-up next month, when “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens.
Sometimes a classic comic book cover is just a cover. Sometimes it’s a classic cover not only because of the awesome and effective cover art but because of the story inside.
The 39th issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a classic inside and out.
Back in the day, Marvel knew how to play the long game. The Green Goblin had been introduced in the pages of the Spidey comic in issue 14 in July 1964. But it wasn’t until issue 39, with a cover date of August 1966, that the true identity of the villain was revealed.
At the end of this comic, which saw the Goblin not only best a flu-weakened Spider-Man, the Goblin himself was revealed as Norman Osborn, businessman and father of Peter Parker’s friend, Harry.
Just look at that cover, by John Romita. If anything, it might have promised even more than the comic inside delivered. If that’s possible.
Comic book urban legend says writer and co-creator Stan Lee’s decision to make Osborn the Goblin so offended artist and co-creator Steve Ditko that Ditko wanted out of the series. At any rate, Romita completed the issue and gave us this classic cover.