Not Taking Chances

It’s appropriate that the lead character in Marvel Studios’ newest release is something of a scoundrel and con man. Chris Pratt plays (self-proclaimed) notorious outlaw Star Lord, a.k.a. Peter Jason Quill. The first time we’re introduced to his character as a grown-up, he’s nabbing the heist while leaving his partner high and dry.

For the rest of the film, he vacillates between good ideals and pragmatic self-interest. The moral grey area calls to mind Serenity captain Mal Reynolds, who often wants to do the right thing, but has to balance that with keeping a ship flying. Sometimes Quill makes sacrifices to do the right thing, but sometimes the right thing gets sacrificed.

Throughout the plot, Quill keeps a step ahead of the vast array of competing interests standing in the way of his big score. Pratt plays Quill with that casual everyman charm, someone who knows he’s got a snowball’s chance in the Sun but conveys confidence like the promised big money is already in his pocket.

Quill is a space hustler. When you think you got him on the ropes, it’s because he wants you to believe it.

And I couldn’t help thinking of the parallel to Marvel Studios as I later discussed the movie with friends.

Almost everything I read leading up to this said, “Marvel sure is taking a gamble with this. Talking raccoon? Tree person? Aliens and not-even-B-list comic heroes? We’ll see how this goes…”

Most reviews were willing to extend benefit of the doubt based on past success. This is Marvel we’re talking about. They knocked Iron Man out of the park. They made Norse gods work in Thor. They even tied their movies together into a cohesive universe leading up to The Avengers which absolutely crushed it.

Marvel figured it out and got that successful formula on lock. (Even some “bad” Marvel movies like Iron Man 2 were still fantastic as super-hero movies go.)

So I wonder if we all didn’t just get played. “This is taking a big chance.” Maybe from the outside looking in, but I’m betting Marvel execs didn’t think so. “What a risk!” No, risk implies likelihood of failure, and I don’t think that was the plan going in. “The raccoon’s a main character? Ugh. What if it’s another Howard the Duck?” Not a chance.

Seriously, looking at how they executed this, I’m willing to believe there was not even a chance in their minds that Guardians would be received as anything less than exemplary.

A gamble? No, just made to look that way.

That leads me to this image, sticking it to DC for their risk-averse comments and back-and-forth commitment to a Wonder Woman film.

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No doubt Marvel is killing it, and sticking a sharp box-office poker in DC’s eye with every release. Nolan’s Batman trilogy was well-received, especially Dark Knight. But both recent attempts at Superman came under heavy flak from the fans. And the new movie’s casting of Affleck and Eisenberg draws even more skepticism.

The fact is, DC doesn’t have the reputation for box office smash hits to rely on for a gamble. Maybe Wonder Woman shouldn’t be a risky proposition, but DC’s clearly not interested in taking more chances than they must.

And to be fair, this is a bit apples-to-oranges.

Rocket’s not the lead. Sure, he’s a draw, but it’s not like the film is The Adventures of Rocket Raccoon.

More importantly, what movies has Marvel released with a female lead? I completely forgot about Elektra, which is for the best. But sadly, it’s hard to think of Marvel movies prior to Iron Man as even belonging to their current portfolio.

Marvel has some great female characters (Black Widow, Maria Hill) on the silver screen and on TVs at home, but none of them are headlining anything. The new show with Sharon Carter may change this, but still, it’s not a film. It’s a show – easily canceled if it doesn’t meet expectations.

That said, I really wanted to type that the Sharon Carter project could be a big gamble. But we’ve seen how those work out where Marvel is concerned.

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