And yet, Marvel Studios banked on these outliers for its $170
million launch of the new franchise "Guardians of the Galaxy," a
novel combination of sarcasm and sci-fi that opens in U.S.
theaters on Friday and could be the late summer's box office
If it delivers on that promise, "Guardians" will show that the
Walt Disney Co studio can score with its more obscure comics
like it has with the popular "Iron Man" and "Captain America."
The film could also be a big validation for those who dare to
veer from standard superhero fare with offbeat characters and
"It is a new kind of tone that I think a lot of people are going
to attempt to do," said lead actor Chris Pratt, who plays the
reluctant hero Peter Quill.
Director and writer James Gunn, who previously worked on films
with modest $3 million budgets, said he found studio executives
were keen to go off-kilter, and loved, for example, introducing
a Walkman and pop music in an outerspace adventure.
"I kept throwing stuff at them and they kept eating it up, so I
felt lucky," said Gunn. "I felt like I was tricking them, but
they seem to like it now, so I guess it is all OK."
Disney's marketing played up the hallmark sci-fi spectacle while
cultivating interest in the idiosyncratic characters, said Phil
Contrino, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com. Rocket Raccoon is
already generating buzz as a fan favorite, he said.
"They found the right note to get people to accept something
that's a little bit out of the ordinary," said Contrino, who
expects ticket sales for opening weekend in the United States
and Canada to reach $73 million.
Even before opening, Marvel confirmed last weekend that
"Guardians of the Galaxy 2" will be released in July 2017 and
Gunn has been invited back to direct.
BAND OF MISFITS
The film opens with a 1980s Walkman that belongs to Peter, an
earthling boy soon swept up to space after his mother dies of
cancer. It plays a cassette she made for him with her favorite
songs from the 1970s, like 10cc's "I'm Not in Love."
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In space, a grown-up Peter is a cocky yet sensitive thief who
connects to his past through the Walkman and the "Awesome Mix" tape.
He has the bad fortune of pilfering an orb that has
planet-destroying powers coveted by the galaxy's evil warlords.
Peter, who also goes by Star-Lord, steps up to lead a rag-tag army
to save the world, including the cynical Rocket (the voice of
Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick, the humanoid tree Groot, whose
only words voiced by Vin Diesel are "I am Groot."
Zoe Saldana, the "Avatar" actress who plays the green assassin
Gamora and the straightwoman in the goofy gang, said the film is
different from others in the action adventure genre because the
characters are misfits rather than heroes.
"What brings them together is that huge sense of loss, of always
losing something or being considered a loser in life," said Saldana.
For Pratt, known as the lovable goofball Andy on television's "Parks
and Recreation," the role of Peter is a huge step up, one he was not
quite sure he could take.
"I was getting more work than before by playing the schlubby
sidekick characters - the real man, the dude who has thrown vanity
aside and let himself go," said Pratt, once 35 pounds overweight but
now a physically fit, strapping star.
"I was doubting my ability to do this, but turns out I was wrong,"
said the 35-year-old actor.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Diane Craft)
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