Beyond Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Examining Marvel's Cosmic Future

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has once again drawn audiences into the orbit of Star-Lord and his band of quirky, sharp-witted partners in crime as they traverse the cosmos to the sounds of '70s and '80s rock. Since the Marvel Studios crew debuted in 2014, they've established a brand of their own, separate from -- yet somehow tied to -- the Avengers. Somehow, director James Gunn managed to throw together a number of seemingly disparate pieces, making it work in a way audiences never expected.

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While the film's colorful characters and vivid imagery are welcome additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what really makes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 work so well is its grand sense of adventure. This is amplified by its road-trip approach to storytelling. Audiences love to be taken to places beyond their imagination, and the Guardians franchise has introduced them to worlds well outside the Earth-bound limits of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

In many ways, Guardians' appeal is akin to that of Star Wars, another franchise that has captivated audiences with its immense world-building, stellar score and stunning action sequences. With regard to its overall appeal, Guardians of the Galaxy in many ways surpasses that of The Avengers because it gives viewers something they can't find in other Marvel Studios films. Thanks to their unique style, the Guardians films don't feel like typical superhero fare, an approach that's led Gunn to stand out from other Marvel directors.

The success of Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel lay the foundation for a new, cosmic direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one in which the heroes face threats on a grand, cosmic scale.

Cosmic Appeal

With Phase Three set to culminate in 2018's Avengers: Infinity War, fans have been wondering where Marvel might go from here. Based on recent comments by Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, the road map to Phase Four can be found in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

“As you know from the comics, there are so many places to go and so many more characters, and there are a few characters hinted at in the tag scenes of Vol. 2,” he said. "All of which could be potential to see and explore more in the new age following our big Avengers films.”

These after-credits scenes speak volumes for the direction of the MCU. Perhaps the most monumental involves Elizabeth Debicki's Ayesha introducing the creation of an ultimate being she names "Adam." Of course, we know she's referring to Adam Warlock, one of the most powerful cosmic characters in the Marvel Universe. While his character's cinematic origin differs from that of the comic book source material, his expected role in Marvel Studios' cosmic universe should make him an immediate game-changer, given his immense powers. Strongly connected to the Guardians in the comics, Warlock is a powerhouse who can only add to the spectacle viewers enjoyed in the first two films.

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And then there's Thor: Ragnarok, which is generating a lot of excitement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's a cosmic road trip featuring Thor and the Hulk. Like Guardians, Ragnarok promises to push boundaries of the Marvel Universe with the introduction of the Asgardian realms of Hel and Niflheim, as well as the barbaric planet Sakaar (well known to Marvel Comics readers from the "Planet Hulk" storyline).

Director Taika Waititi and screenwriter Eric Pearson appear to have taken the shortcomings of Thor: The Dark World into account, as Ragnarok moves the action off Earth, which will hopefully ignite a spark in a franchise that hasn't generated the same level of excitement as its Marvel brethren. Plus, who won't enjoy Thor and Hulk duking it out gladiator-style in an alien arena?

Beyond Phase Three

Marvel has proved it can deliver entertainment on a cosmic scale with Guardians and Doctor Strange, so who's to say that taking Earth's Mightiest Heroes beyond, well, Earth won't be a major aspect of Phase Four? Captain Marvel promises to serve as a significant stepping stone toward that process.

Set to make her debut next year in Avengers: Infinity War, Oscar winner Brie Larson has said Carol Danvers is "the bridge between what’s happening up in space and what’s happening down on Earth.” Given the character's connections to the Kree, Captain Marvel is perfectly positioned to become a guiding force as the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands deeper into the cosmos. In other words, Danvers could become the studio's flagship hero, succeeding Iron Man and Captain America. In fact, when Captain Marvel is introduced, there will be no doubt she's a power player.

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“Captain Marvel will be, by far, the most powerful superhero in Marvel’s cinematic universe," Feige explained. "[The story] ultimately needs to be about the three-dimensional, multilayered Carol Danvers character. You have to be able to track her and follow her and relate to her at all points of the movie, regardless of how many visual effects and spaceships and bad guys are filling the frame. That’s what’s important.”

Of course, the cosmic buck doesn't stop with Captain Marvel. As she prepares to take the MCU by storm, many fans hope there's room for another cosmic hero -- Nova -- to enter the fold. Guardians of the Galaxy already established the existence of the Nova Corps, although its role has been relatively so far, with its most important duty being to guard the Power Stone. Introducing Rich Ryder's Nova would add another hero whose adventures are largely space-based.

With the sheer volume of comic book films in the pipeline, the possibility of Marvel running into a wall of "superhero fatigue" is always a concern. As important as characters like Iron Man and Captain America were to establishing the MCU, there needs to be variety to keep that universe vibrant. What's made Guardians of the Galaxy stand out is that it doesn't feel like a typical Marvel film. If the MCU wants to continue its box-office dominance, the studio needs to keep exploring that corner of its cosmos.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in theaters now. Thor: Ragnarok arrives Nov. 3.

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