Guardians Galaxy Rocket Groot

Judged solely on the footage alone, Marvel’s 17 minute IMAX 3D presentation of footage from Guardians of the Galaxy Monday night couldn’t have been better. It starts with a brief introduction, goes into a nice 10-12 minute scene which sets up plot, action and character, then is capped by a sizzle reel featuring a ton of new footage. We see Yondu, Thanos’ throne, and more.

That footage aside, the event itself posed some very interesting questions for the film as Marvel and Disney prepare for an August 1 release. Many in the audience complained at only getting to see 17 minutes so close to the actual release date. Others walked out of the theater scratching their head, wondering what this has to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The event definitely got people talking about the film but maybe not in all the ways Marvel and Disney hoped. Read more about the Guardians of the Galaxy IMAX presentation below and watch an extended glimpse at the footage.

Let’s start with the good. Without a doubt, Bradley Cooper‘s Rocket Raccoon was the star of the event. The main scene was him orchestrating an elaborate prison escape using the resources of his new compatriots. Rocket has got a swagger and presence that’s rare for a CG character. As he lays out his plan, you are totally with him, even when it gets sidetracked a bit by his big buddy Groot. You also understand why the other characters are behind him too. He’s authoritative, intimidating and funny.

The footage presented Gamora as a very important, famous character in this cosmic pocket of the Marvel universe. The whole prison (including one hilarious cameo from James Gunn’s earliest days) is against her. Peter Quill definitely takes a back seat in this scene, though an earlier introduction with the group was teased and I can’t wait to see it. Then there’s Drax who makes his intentions known in a scary but funny way.

Other things to note: there seemed to be a brief Thanos silhouette on the display when Gamora was described by John C. Reilly’s character. The Nova Corps. gets involved. Ronan the Accuser is seen in many quick shots. It was a ton of great stuff. Basically, the scenes shown – including lots of them in the sizzle reel to end the footage – were just plain entertaining and visually impressive, especially in IMAX 3D. I’d go into a full description, but who wants to read that?  Here’s a brief snippet thanks to Fandango:

The one downside to the full footage is, as it likely picks up about 10-15 minutes into the movie, we didn’t really get a chance to acclimate to the tone. It’s obvious James Gunn has made a unique space opera and that means it has its own rules and feel. Those will usually take a few minutes to get used to. This footage didn’t allow for that. It just sort of threw you in the deep end. That won’t be the case when the movie comes out but it was a minor distraction here.

After the footage ended, many in the crowd cheered in delight. But not all of them. Which is where we get to the interesting discussion.

While I call Los Angeles home, I saw this footage in West Nyack, NY at the AMC IMAX Palisades Center. (A great theater, incidentally, and one I frequented for a long time before my move West.) That meant this was a very different audience from the LA crowd, one not as familiar with insider movie info and marketing strategies. Before the event began, it was made clear this was a short preview event and phones or leaving the theater weren’t going to be tolerated. Many were also under the impression they were seeing the full movie, so there was a chatter and disappointment in the audience about those things. As everyone sat down, jokes were screamed across the theater about filming the footage, fighting with the security guards, ruining the surprises when the movie came out in August. It was an off-putting, weird vibe.

Thankfully, the footage got everyone to shut up and they seemed to enjoy it. It was hard not to.

However, after it ended, I was talking with a non-movie friend of mine and he was confused. “So this is in the same universe as Iron Man and those guys?” he asked. Yes, I explained. The sizzle reel at the end said that pretty definitively. “Right, I saw that, but when does this take place?” I don’t know, I said. I’m sure the movie would contextualize it. “But we won’t see Iron Man or The Avengers at all?” Maybe something in the post credits, I said. He seemed disappointed. “I don’t know. I just don’t understand why I’d come see a Marvel movie with characters I’ve never heard of if it doesn’t cross over with those movies.” I tried to explain something to him about Phase Three or whatever, but I could tell it was too late.

It occurred to me that living in Los Angeles and in a bubble of film fans on Twitter had blinded me from a big question this film poses.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big moment, not just for Marvel, but for superheroes in general. Up until now, almost every big superhero movie has been someone the general public has at least heard of. Sure there’s an exception here or there but, for the most part, it’s true. The Guardians of the Galaxy are known by some, but not close to the level of even the smallest Marvel Cinematic counterpart. This film will go a long way to showing if it’s the Marvel name that’s important, the superhero genre as a whole, or simply the recognizable, familiar characters. If it’s the former two, the sky is the limit. If it’s the latter, it’ll be difficult for the genre to have a ton of longevity.

Of course, if Guardians of the Galaxy is as good a movie as it could be, neither will matter. Audiences will show up for a good movie regardless if it’s a character they’ve heard of or not. Based on the footage alone, that looks like a real possibility.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1.

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