As a guy with a very big soft spot for late night talk shows, I’m certainly not opposed to watching Jimmy Kimmel’s show — I just know now that I’ll only make a point to watch it if there’s a guarantee of a machine gun-toting raccoon. I tuned in last night and I was not disappointed. Sidenote: I hope the Kimmel Promotion Team keeps us all abreast of any future non Marvel movie related machinegun-toting raccoon appearances. The first trailer for “Guardians of the Galaxy” dropped on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” last night, following a walk-on appearance by Chris “Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill” Pratt, and it exited our television atmosphere just before midnight — meaning I got to avoid Jimmy gabbing with Bill O’Reilly. A night of victories!
So, how about that “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer? That was pretty awesome, right? I’ve never seen a James Gunn movie (I’m fully anticipating an annoying barrage of “You GOTTA see ‘Slither’!” responses, possibly tying the number of “You GOTTA see ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’!” comments I got last summer), but this James Gunn movie looks like one I definitely won’t miss. Even if my own personal affection for the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning “Guardians” era was removed, and even if the Marvel ties were completely removed, I would still want to see it. The “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer not only hints at a drastically different future for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it also presents a movie that doesn’t feel like any I’ve encountered in a good long while.
To address the latter point succinctly, so far “Guardians of the Galaxy” feels like the “Star Wars” sequel I’ve been waiting to see on the big screen since… well, forever. As a kid born a year after Ewoks overthrew the Empire across multiplexes nationwide, I’ve never known the joy of seeing a new “Star Wars” that accurately continued the original trilogy’s tone. Sure, I got “The Phantom Menace” and its sister films, and I was even convinced that those jams were worthwhile for a good number of years, but I’ve since come to realize that the prequels don’t capture the zest of the original trilogy. “Guardians,” you guys, seems to have it.
That’s pretty lofty praise! I mean, comparing a film to “Star Wars”? It doesn’t get more complimentary than that in these circles. But “Hooked On a Feeling” and Earth shout-outs aside, the two and a half minutes of footage we’ve seen just scream classic “Star Wars” to me. The characters already seem dangerously alive, even with scant lines between all five of them, with every actor bringing a vivacious energy to their crazy sci-fi dialogue. Inhuman characters like Groot and Rocket are hard to pull off; you either get an unrelatable, cringe-inducing cartoon character like Jar Jar Binks, or you get sympathetic characters that feel fully formed — despite or possibly because of their inhuman features — like Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2. Groot and Rocket already feel like the latter. Zoe Saldana’s upped her already considerable acting game for her performance as Gamora, one that fills the screen with gleeful menace every time she’s seen. She’s got Princess Leia’s Death Star swagger and Boba Fett’s menacing mystique (you know, the mystique he had before a blind guy accidentally sent him rocketing into a sand worm’s belly). While Dave Bautista’s Drax is still a bit of a captivating enigma, Pratt’s Star-Lord makes up for it times a million. His performance feels as effortlessly charismatic as Harrison Ford’s in “Star Wars,” with the character feeling both ironically detached and passionately committed at the same time. We may never get a real Han Solo movie; “Guardians of the Galaxy” may be the next best thing.
The characters also feel so “Star Wars”-y because of the universe they inhabit. This isn’t the clean “Star Trek” outer space, no, no, no. This is a dirty universe, filled with poorly painted starships, dimly lit corridors and walls with chipped paint. You could tell me that the Nova Corps HQ was actually the Death Star and, you know, I’d buy it. Everything that was shown in this trailer looks good and it looks cohesive.
Comparing “Guardians” to “Star Wars” isn’t totally a good thing, though, as it robs the film of the uniqueness that’s bursting forth in every frame of the trailer — uniqueness that most certainly comes from knowing the film’s context. This isn’t a standalone sci-fi feature film, it’s a Marvel Comics movie. This is the first Marvel Comics movie to fully distance itself from the superhero genre and Earth’s orbit, and knowing that makes this trailer even more exciting. This shows that big budget comic book movies are not defined by the superhero genre, and it shows that Marvel can set their ambitions far outside their realm of comfort and come back with something that looks like a real success. This is not a safe movie. There are no name characters, a bunch of niche actors in starring roles, and a genre that can be hit or miss with wider audiences. Still, Marvel went there.
The film isn’t totally divorced from its lineage, though. I really don’t know what would startle the uninitiated more upon seeing this trailer, the rude raccoon or the overtly humorous tone. This trailer goes for jokes in a manner and at a pace previously unseen in any Marvel trailer. That’s not to say the other Marvel movies aren’t funny — you could easily cut an equally joke-filled trailer for “Iron Man 3” — they just aren’t marketed that way. So not only are Marvel leading with a totally new genre and characters and actors previously unproven to be box offices draws on their own, they’re leading with their jokes.
I previously said “Thor: The Dark World” showed off Marvel’s post-“Avengers” confidence, but this one trailer shows it off even more. It is absolutely insane that Marvel has made a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. This iteration of the team made their comic book debut the same month that “Iron Man” kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and here they are six years later with a feature film. They don’t have five decades of existing on the pop culture periphery to build on the way that Thor and Iron Man did. They have pretty much nothing except the word “Marvel’s” shoehorned in front of the movie’s title. While Marvel put the film in development before the “Avengers'” blockbuster success, they didn’t announce it until after that film had come out and conquered. It’s not hard to assume that “Avengers'” overwhelming success emboldened Marvel to double down on this intergalactic gamble.
So here’s the thing, people that want a more diverse Marvel Movie-verse: You have to go see “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There are a lot of groan-inducing Hollywood reasons why movies starring Black Panther, Black Widow and Captain Marvel have not yet been made, but “Guardians'” success can silence one of them. If it’s a hit, Marvel’s confidence will only grow. The film studio will have box office proof that they can successfully launch a franchise from nothing. It doesn’t get much more nothing than “Guardians of the Galaxy,” either, which went from a staggeringly brilliant but canceled team comic book to a Hollywood movie. I honestly would not be surprised if Marvel Studios has a number of films in development right now for their still blank 2016 and 2017 release dates, simply waiting on “Guardians” success to lock them down. If this talking tree movie tanks, maybe we get safe bets like “Captain America 3” and “Thor 3” in the next Phase; if the space slugfest succeeds, maybe we’ll continue to see equally untried characters. Fingers crossed, everybody.
But regardless of whether or not the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe rests in the furry paws of an a-hole, the trailer looks fantastic. It’s weird, funny, exciting and somehow feels familiar, yet unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. To sum it all up, this one trailer made me want to go read all of Nebula’s comic book appearances, and that’s a real feat.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).