It’s a colossal understatement to suggest that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had an impact on the landscape of feature films this past decade. Beating the odds and making a successful Iron Man movie was one thing, but they had the gall to include a post-credits Easter egg scene that introduced Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and which suggested they had much, much bigger plans in the works. Premiering tomorrow night, a TV special called Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe tracks how Marvel Studios did the seemingly impossible — creating a true movie counterpart to the serialized and intertwined stories fans loved from their comics, and making huge bank off unsure-thing characters such as Captain America, Thor, and — dare we hope? — the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Marvel title we’re most excited about here at GFR is of course the studio’s first foray into full-on space craziness. Sure, both the Thor movies and The Avengers incorporated cosmic settings beyond Earth, but Thor’s Asgard and the invading Chitauri have shown us only small slices of the broader Marvel Universe. With exception of its backstory, Guardians isn’t about Earth and it isn’t set on Earth, so the movie will be a chance to get a look at the galactic community Marvel has been hinting at, and through the eyes of grounded, comparatively insignificant characters. Much as he’d try to argue otherwise, Peter “Star-Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) is no Captain America, and the motley band he unites with are sure as hell no Avengers — even though it falls to them to save the goddamn universe.
With Captain America: The Winter Soldier next up in the barrel for Marvel, Guardians doesn’t get much attention in the new special. Almost no attention, actually — it doesn’t slide into the spotlight until the special’s final segment, and it only accounts for around two minutes of the total runtime. The good news is, there is some intriguing new footage crammed into those two minutes. We see more of the Guardians group in action, including a few shots not seen in the trailer: Glenn Close’s Nova Prime puts in an appearance (complete with semi-goofy hairstyle); we get another really good look at Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan as space pirate Nebula; and we finally get a better look at the film’s main villain, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). While you’ll get your first look at Ronan tomorrow night, we can say that his look is very faithful to the comic book version you can see below, complete with nifty hammer.
Since the Guardians clips are so brief, there isn’t a whole lot of new information to sift through. Much has been made of how much of a risk making a Guardians of the Galaxy movie is, as compared to focusing on better-known heroes. But as Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige points out, there was a time when people thought it was crazy that they were making an Iron Man movie starring Robert Downey Jr. “It does take us back to the same mindset we were in six, seven years ago where we decided, ‘Hey, we want to make a feature out of Iron Man,’” says Fiege.
Director James Gunn also puts in an appearance, explaining that one of the things that appealed to him most about Guardians was the chance to create a gritty sci-fi universe that was still very colorful. That color is definitely apparent in everything we’ve seen so far, and it’s a nice change from the cooler blues/blacks/greys templates you see in a lot of science fiction. Finally, lead actor Chris Pratt explains that the Guardians are all very selfish characters who end up uniting for a cause larger than themselves — very much in keeping with Marvel’s flawed, down-to-Earth tradition when it comes to its heroes.
While the special doesn’t serve up much on the Guardians front, the even bigger draw is going to be our first look at the much-anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron. So far we’ve seen diddly-bupkis from the Avengers sequel outside of some set pics, so while our screener only had a place-holder where the Avengers 2 footage will go, there’s no doubt every Marvel fan will want to set their DVRs to see what they surprise us with.
Beyond the previews of the upcoming stuff, Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe is a pretty straightforward but entertaining retrospective through Marvel’s phoenix-like ascension over the past few years. Individual segments explore the different movies (although Iron Man 2 kind of gets short shrift), the so-called Marvel One-Shots short films, and the troubled and uneven Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. Frankly, if the show was as good as the segment makes it look, it’d be on much sturdier footing…
Marvel: Assembling a Universe premieres tomorrow night, March 18, at 8/7c on ABC.