Are Marvel movie fans ready for the C-team?

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. (Courtesy Marvel)

Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. (Courtesy Marvel)

Steve Tilley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET

The folks at Marvel clearly have more than 12% of a plan.

This weekend marks the opening of Disney-owned Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy, which has been generating tons of positive reviews. I very much enjoyed it, although I’m not sure I’m with the folks declaring it as this generation’s Star Wars.

That’s because Star Wars was a hugely risky movie at the time. George Lucas had just one major feature film under his belt, he was pioneering some untested special effects techniques and sci-fi in general wasn’t guaranteed box office gold — that was an era that Star Wars itself helped usher in.

Like Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy is a soaring space opera full of characters that most people haven’t heard of, and directed by a guy with just one moderately well-known movie on his resume (that would be James Gunn, who helmed 2006’s Slither). But Marvel is operating from a playbook infused with arcane powers. They’ve taken B-list superheroes and made them into A-list blockbusters.

And it doesn’t look like that trend is slowing down.

Consider: Man of Steel, a much-anticipated reboot of the most famous superhero of all-time, received decidedly mixed reviews last year. This year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which marked the big-screen debuts of classic Spidey villains Electro and the Rhino, also got a decidedly lukewarm reception. So much so that Sony Pictures has decided to push The Amazing Spider-Man 3 back to 2018 and concentrate instead on the Sinister Six villain spinoff.

But while Spider-Man flounders, and while DC and Warner Bros. pray that fans will be cool with the reimagined Batman and Wonder Woman that will debut in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel Studios continues to kill it with heroes who scarcely anyone cared about prior to their cinematic debuts: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and now these intergalactic rogues.

Guardians of the Galaxy is definitely something different for Marvel, but not as different as it might appear at first glance. Despite all the surface weirdness, from the unusual cast (a talking raccoon, a sentient tree and Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt as a heroic lead) to a director with more vision than actual experience, it still cleaves to a lot of time-tested sci-fi formulas, as doesn’t shake up the Marvel movie framework too much. It’s less Star Wars than it is The Avengers in space, with a few more jokes, a few more catchphrases (like Star-Lord and his 12% of a plan) and a killer soundtrack. And it will be a huge success, critically and financially.

But Marvel’s true test begins soon. They’ve scored multiple times with the B-team, and now it’s time to bring the C-team onto the field. Ant-Man, even less well-known than Thor or Iron Man, in a movie that lost its director at the 11th hour. Doctor Strange, a hero of a different stripe, with a movie that will likely slide between several genres at once. Meanwhile, The Avengers’ solo films will start to edge up into their third instalments, where the novelty has worn off and fans may be craving something a little different.

When the next generation of Disney’s do-gooders go up against Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Fantastic Four and the next iteration of the X-Men, things are going to get really interesting. And one way or another, it’ll be the fans who win in the end.

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