There's a hospital bed. A mother reaching out to her son. A blinding light. A boy suddenly disappears. Moments later, there is Chris Pratt in Guardians Of The Galaxy. As far as movie origins go, it's pretty succinct. And with that approach comes the key to future superhero based storytelling: origin stories absolutely need to go.
People talk about fans growing tired of superhero movies one day. But the truth is the genre isn't what bores them, it's the endless need to start and restart at the beginning, as if we won't believe something unless we see where it emerged. Audiences crave the notion of a hero hitting the ground running: Guardians Of The Galaxy has five heroic characters, all with a significant backstory. And what writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman opted to do was just mention them quickly through brief dialogue exchanges and move on. That's easy to do with a humanoid bruiser like Drax. That's much harder when you have a talking raccoon and his tree friend. And yet, those strange concepts, barely explained in the film proper, worked for a huge group of fans, most of whom have never picked up a single Guardians Of The Galaxy comic book.
Franchise-building used to be dependent on the first film setting the table for what was to come. But audiences have become hip to that tiring set-up, and are ready for a new form of storytelling. It's been fourteen years since X-Men – audiences will buy spectacular shows of power. It's why The Avengers exceeded all expectations despite no built-in explanations for who these characters were (especially Hawkeye, glimpsed for about a minute in Thor). Subsequently, Marvel's Phase 2 has been HUGE compared to Phase 1. Thor: The Dark World grossed nearly $200 million more than its predecessor, with a $644 million global take. At $713 milliong internationally, Captain America: The Winter Soldier nearly doubled the gross of the first film. And Iron Man 3 literally made a billion dollars. There was a bump that came from their exposure in the superhero team-up, yes. But those audiences were also made up of people thankful they wouldn't have to deal with another origin story, glad the franchise has gotten that out of the way.
It's why Sony has crashed and burned with The Amazing Spider-Man, struggling to pick up the pieces. Instead of assuming the audience knew full well who Spider-Man was, they doubled down: the two Amazing Spider-Man films are nearly ALL origin, dealing with Spider-Man trying to piece together the mysteries of OsCorp and what happened to his parents. Not only were audiences over-familiar with that particular character, we had just suffered through fourteen years of superhero set-ups. Movies like Daredevil, Ghost Rider and Green Lantern dragged us through the same character-building beginnings where the hero must Refuse The Call, then learn his powers and jump into battle against a baddie usually tied to his origins.
DC has gingerly stepped into the superhero movie realm, but they're bringing this approach with them. Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice is going to be loaded with appearances from supporting heroes. They're not going to get their own movies that explain each of their beginnings and motivations. They're going to show up alongside Batman and Superman, and people are just going to get it. Fully established, they can then head into their own film that takes them on their own adventure. You'd hope Marvel sees the potential struggles ahead with Doctor Strange and Ant-Man – both seem to be of a specific genre, the supernatural thriller and the heist movie. That alone should prevent origin overload, one would hope.
But Guardians Of The Galaxy might just set this template. Before we get our bearings, we're thrown into deep space. We're introduced to characters like Yondu and Groot, and we finally come face to face with The Collector, who may as well be a space glam rocker with irritable bowel syndrome due to all the shaking and scrunched-eye glares he gives. In the comics, these characters all have rich backstories, with their own separate lives and specific motivations; Kevin Feige once talked about a Rocket Raccoon spinoff because he knew the character could support one, by sheer personality. It's these characters, and this approach, that makes Guardians Of The Galaxy the first Post-Origin Superhero Movie. Hopefully, it's not the last.