(CBR) Ever since Robert Downey, Jr. strapped on the Iron Man armor back in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been nothing short of a financial juggernaut. One success after another, year after year, leading up to Marvel Studios' crown jewel: the record-shattering success of Marvel Studios' "The Avengers" in the summer of 2012.
As 2013 began, many critics warned of "superhero fatigue," and their predictions of doom, gloom and bursting bubbles persisted... until "Iron Man 3" raked in over a billion dollars worldwide that May. It was followed by "Thor: The Dark World" in November, another film whose box office numbers were pretty stellar on their own.
2014, however, is a new year, and with every new summer blockbuster season comes a series of fresh challenges. Not satisfied to rest on its laurels (Well, there will be some laurel-resting going on; "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens in April) Marvel is branching out with Phase 2 of their Cinematic Universe roll-out, which includes new -- and lesser-known -- commodities.
Enter the "Guardians of the Galaxy": Easily the least popular superhero squad to appear on-screen for Marvel thus far, and the strangest, most fantastical concept it's ever tried to thrust into the mainstream.
And, by a wide margin, the biggest risk the Disney-led Marvel film franchise has ever taken. With risk comes the possibility of reward, but also the chance of derailing its juggernaut -- if only for a single film.
Don't get me wrong, true believers: I'm going to be at "Guardians of the Galaxy" opening night, popcorn in-hand, preparing to cheer like the spastic fangirl that I am at the first sight of a CGI raccoon or a talking tree. And yet, despite an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the film's first trailer online, some of the more casual movie-goers who make up Marvel's film audience may not share in my unbridled enthusiasm.
And that's the primary issue I see with this film: the lack of mainstream appeal. You could make the argument that some previous Marvel films were risky, with lesser-known heroes in the titular roles. Tony Stark certainly wasn't a household name prior to 2008's "Iron Man," and that risk more than paid off. Audiences weren't exactly clamoring for a Captain America movie set in the 1940s, but that worked out just fine. "Thor" -- possibly the biggest roll-of-the-dice thus far -- turned out to be a huge success, despite taking place in an otherworldly sci fi-draped-in-fantasy setting (a genre that doesn't always translate well to the Muggles.) Even though the aforementioned characters lacked instantly-recognizable names, they all existed in the collective consciousness to some degree. The mere mention of "Guardians of the Galaxy," on the other hand, leaves the majority of people scratching their heads; the modern comic book incarnation of the Guardians has only existed since 2008, and despite the recent Marvel NOW! "reboot" with writer Brian Michael Bendis at the helm, they don't exactly possess the rich history of their cinematic counterparts.

Upon closer inspection, "Guardians of the Galaxy" lacks a number of other key ingredients Marvel's recent films had going for them. A glaring omission is star power. "Thor," "Captain America" and "Iron Man" had a number of well-known, critically acclaimed faces adorning their one-sheets; Gwenyth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman -- the list goes on. On the flip side, "Guardians'" cast isn't exactly overflowing with proven box-office draws; featuring pro wrestler Dave Batista to TV's "Parks & Recreation's" funny man Chris Pratt, many will be scouring IMDb in order to find a familiar face in this group. The film's biggest star is arguably Zoe Saldana, whose most notable work was as Neytiri in 2009's "Avatar," where she played a CGI-enhanced blue alien -- which makes her perfect for the role of a makeup-enhanced green alien.

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