Marvel Sticks to Formula With Guardians of the Galaxy

According to Latino Review, there’s going to big event movie before we get to The Avengers 2: it’s confirmed to be Guardians of the Galaxy, a team-up that will elevate a range of smaller-scale heroes and have them get with the Avengers to fight aliens. I’m enjoying Marvel’s commitment to do some of the more fantastical elements in its arsenal, especially because I hope it might empower other comic-book franchise, like Judge Dredd, to do some of the weirder stories in their catalogues.

But I have to admit, I’m sorry we’re not getting at least some contrast to these big pictures with smaller movies that are focused either on urban crime and urban blight, as Luke Cage could have been, or focused on characters with more singular problems like Deathlok, or frankly, that star a woman with actual super-powers. It’s telling that we live in a world where Marvel will dig into the weirdness of its back catalogue before making a movie or a television series about one of its recognizable, established female heroes, something Manohla Dargis pointed out this weekend was ludicrously old-fashioned in a world where the two most powerful Americans are a black man and a woman in late middle age. This big, galactic formula is comic book-y and it’s produced a lot of tremendously fun movies. But as I’ve written before, and I’m sure I’ll write again, it would be really nice to see Marvel diversify both to pull in new audiences, and to hedge against a day when their formula gets stale.

And I’d hate to think they were sticking with galactic stories because, at least as they’ve been executed so far, they’re a way to avoid political allegories, and to stay as broadly appealing as possible. Wacked-out gods don’t have much in the way of real-world analogues. A.O. Scott, in his chat with Dargis, said something about the rise of superhero movies in the eighties and their role today that I thought was telling:

It’s telling that Hollywood placed a big bet on superheroes at a time when two of its traditional heroic genres — the western and the war movie — were in eclipse, partly because they seemed ideologically out of kilter with the times. The studios turned to fantasy, science fiction and a kind of filmmaking that was at once technologically advanced and charmingly old-fashioned. Along with “Star Wars” and Indiana Jones there was Superman, played, starting in 1978, by the square-jawed, relatively unknown Christopher Reeve…Perhaps this is a reflection of the state of the world after Sept. 11, 2001. Certainly the superhero movies of today are, like the gangster pictures of the Depression and the westerns of the ’50s, a screen onto which our society projects its fears and dreams. But I also think that the grimness arises from another source. When hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, it is never a laughing matter.


Politics sneak in, of course, whether its in the willingness of a shadowy council to destroy New York, a superhero who asserts an old-fashioned belief in monotheism, or a woman who gets more out of a skillful interrogation than a man would out of torture. But while science fiction and fantasy are powerful tools for creating metaphors and exploring ideas, they can be used to create utterly detached threats and villains, which look good, but are as flat as the screens they’re projected on.