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  • Writer's pictureCade Earick

"Guardians Of The Galaxy" and The Reinvention of the Superhero Genre

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

I remember 2014 vividly. The year of Ebola, “Turn Down For What,” and the death of Robin Williams, however there’s one moment that stands above everything else from that year: the release of Marvel Studios’ 10th studio film, Guardians of The Galaxy, directed by James Gunn. I had seen plenty of other superhero films at that same theatre, yet none of them impacted me to the same degree that this film did, and being the middle schooler I was, I really didn’t pay attention to that change as much as I do now. However, It’s abundantly clear to me now, after witnessing the growth of both DC and Marvel Studios, just what that feeling was that I experienced along with millions of others around the world. We became hooked on that feeling, and with that, witnessed the entire genre of the superhero film change as a whole.

The superhero film is one that faced a rocky uphill battle to its current place in the industry today. The genre always had promise, with the success of Richard Donner’s Superman, as well as the success of animated superhero cartoons such as Batman: The Animated Series. Film production companies such as Fox and Sony saw such promise, which led to its meteoric rise in the early 2000s. This era saw the release of some great movies, such as Sam Rami’s Spiderman franchise and Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy, however it also saw the release of some historic blunders such as Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Catwoman, and Spider Man 3. The entire genre had no sense of direction, and was utterly confused with itself. For a while, it was hard to see where the superhero genre would end up. However, we saw promise with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which was foreshadowing for a massive shift in the genre as a whole.

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was nominated for multiple Oscars, such as Best Picture. Along with that, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man marked the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both of these movies were released in 2008, and proved to be absolutely groundbreaking for the superhero genre and the film industry as a whole. Iron Man is responsible for the cinematic universe format that film companies have attempted to recreate for years with little to no success, and The Dark Knight was the first example of the dark and gritty superhero films that DC would end up making their signature style. During this time Marvel films, while having a decent amount of humor, kept a seriousness and edge that was later softened in their future films. These movies set the standard for what the superhero genre stood for, and began their rise in the industry as some of the highest-grossing films of all time. 2012 marked another banner year for the genre when Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was released, rounding off Marvel’s first phase as well as bringing together multiple characters from different films into one epic adventure. While DC was able to find moderate success, it was hard to follow up their Nolan directed batman films, attempting to recreate the same magic that those movies had, while also trying to replicate what success Marvel had been able to find. The two found themselves separated, and set Marvel on an absolute rocket to success.

Phase two for the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, two of the most forgettable films in the studio’s filmography. However, things began to pick-up with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a fantastic follow up to The First Avenger, succeeding that movie in it’s own right. But then, one film was released seemingly out of nowhere that changed the superhero forever: James Gunn’s Guardians of The Galaxy. A fun, humorous, kick-ass film with an amazing soundtrack and writing, Guardians of The Galaxy had done what no other superhero film had ever been able to do before, which was to combine equal parts of comedy and drama/action. The whole industry was stuck in that somewhat bland “Dark Knight Wannabe” territory that was truly getting old by the release of this film, but James Gunn’s film truly revived burned out fans, and made the genre interesting again. Films such as Green Lantern and Fantastic Four had previously attempted to create a similar type of film, but lacked the writing and skill necessary to pull it off. Again, the genre as a whole was still in its infancy, but Guardians of the Galaxy came at just the right moment, and was the push that Marvel needed to absolutely dominate the film industry.

Phase two ended with Ant-Man, with films like Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, and others arriving in Phase three, we saw a softer and less gritty approach to films after they witnessed the success of Guardians of The Galaxy. Marvel had made the superhero genre more enjoyable again. However, as we head into Phase four, some of that so-called “Superhero fatigue” is starting to kick in for a lot of fans and even myself. Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to the next Spider-Man, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Black Panther II, however a part of me is also looking for a reinvention, an event similar to the impact made by Guardians of The Galaxy. Will we find that movie soon? There’s definitely promise with films like Marvel’s Eternals and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which will beMarvel’s first horror film, but it’s still unknown at this point. However, with the upcoming release of the Justice League “Snyder Cut," a revolutionary event in the superhero genre might be in store. It’s time to keep our eyes open, and get ready for the next big reinvention the industry has to offer!

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