After the colossal success of The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Marvel can do no wrong. But even Marvel President Kevin Feige has admitted they're taking a risk with this summer's Guardians of the Galaxy (out August 1st in the U.S.).
Why is it such a risk? Well, for one thing, most people aren't familiar with the characters at all. Even mainstream audiences who've never read a comic were at least anecdotally familiar with Captain America, Hulk, and the Avengers. Another reason is the setting itself; instead of a familiar superheroes-on-Earth story, GotG is an epic, Star Wars-esque adventure film, with characters that include a talking tree and a gun-toting raccoon! Even the tone of the film is different. It's obvious from the first trailer that Marvel is taking a comedic slant here, which is a good thing, actually. This material needs that angle, and hiring James Gunn to write/direct was a stroke of genius.
Now, don't get me wrong. I think the movie looks AMAZING. I'm as excited as a virgin in a whorehouse to see this thing. I think most of the geek community is right there with me, as well. But we alone don't make or break these movies: the general public does that. In order to be a gigantic success like its forebearers, GotG has got to convince a mainstream audience to plop down money to see it. All of the concerns I mentioned above have been discussed on various websites ad nauseum the last few months, but I have a different concern altogether: audience confusion.
Before I break down my reasoning, I want to prove my point by showing you two more trailers, one for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (out May 2nd), and one for X-Men: Days of Future Past (out May 23rd). Take a look at both trailers and I'll meet you after the jump:
Did you notice the Marvel logo in both trailers? If not, go back and watch again — it's there. Now, those of us in the geek community know full well that although all of these characters are Marvel superheroes, 20th Century Fox holds the rights to the X-Men (and the Fantastic Four), and Sony/Columbia owns the film rights to Spider-Man. Therefore, although these are successful franchises in their own right, they do NOT take place in the same fictional world as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Iron Man 1-3, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America 1-2, Thor 1-2, The Avengers).
Guardians of the Galaxy DOES take place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though. But it's hard to tell that from the trailers and marketing materials. Here's what I'm getting at: yes, the Spider-Man and X-Men movies have been huge hits, but they haven't come close to the cumulative success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I think part of the reason that the MCU films are such big hits is that each new film rests of the shoulders of the movies that came before it. The general public is confident that Captain America: The Winter Soldier will be good because Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers were so good. That's not to discount the fact that all of them actually ARE good movies, or to discredit their own marketing campaigns. But I feel that this is a big part of the reason for such high audience turnout.
With GotG, the link between films is not as obvious. There was that post-credits scene at the end of Thor: The Dark World, but it was so weird and out of place, I doubt general audiences even realized it was a teaser for GotG. I haven't actually seen Winter Soldier yet, so I don't know if there's another post-credits tease there or not. But even so, my concerns are still valid. What I'm afraid will happen is that the general public will see the trailers and posters for GotG and see the Marvel logo, but not grant it the weight it deserves. With films franchises like X-Men and Spider-Man, the Marvel logo becomes diluted. They'll see a GotG poster and think, "Oh, look some company made a movie with some other Marvel characters I've never heard of." And that might be enough to dissuade them from purchasing a ticket.
Look, I hope I'm wrong. In fact, I'm actually fairly confident that I AM wrong. But I don't think it would hurt to make those links more clear in the marketing. There's a rumor that Iron Man has a cameo in the film. If that's true, I say rather than make it a surprise Easter egg, exploit it for all it's worth. Throw that cameo in the trailer and the TV spots. If nothing else, just add some text in the trailers that says, "From the world of The Avengers."
I really hope that Guardians of the Galaxy is a huge hit. It looks incredible and would open up possibilities for all kinds of new Marvel movies. But if it's not a hit...well, don't say I didn't warn you.