Warning: This post has spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Delivering a satisfying follow-up to a previous success is a notoriously difficult feat. In the music industry, this is known as 'second album syndrome', while the world of education often calls it the 'sophomore slump'. Essentially, previous success works against you, setting the bar so high that you'll struggle during your second effort. When it comes to movies, there's no official term for this, but there is a history of anticipated sequels that have faltered, often guilty of providing a film that fails to deliver a satisfying addition to a much loved feature.
That being said, this was precisely the challenge James Gunn and his creative team at #Marvel faced when trying to bring Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 to life. The original Guardians movie had delivered a surprise hit, providing a welcome break from traditional superhero tropes and giving fans a breath of fresh air thanks to a ragtag team of space losers. Classic anthems, a psychedelic color palette and goofball humor had created a perfect storm for Marvel, and the studio wished to replicate this success.
Having already created the otherworldly aesthetics for the Guardians to inhabit, perhaps Gunn's greatest challenge while trying to provide a worthy sequel was to maintain Guardian of the Galaxy's tone. The team's first outing had walked a family-friendly tight rope, offering jokes about "A-holes" and "pelvic sorcery", while also ensuring that the Marvel movie was accessible to audiences of all ages.
It has now been revealed that while trying to replicate this finely tuned balancing act for Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, the creative team found a bump in the road when trying to visualize Ego in a family friendly manner.
As a celestial god, Kurt Russell's Ego was a character that was able to transform, mutate and ultimately take human form(s). While this provided some truly interesting visuals throughout the film, it also gave visual effects artists a conundrum when tasked with keeping the film's aesthetic appropriate for a PG-13 audience.
So, What's The Problem With Kurt Russell's Ego?
Ego's on-screen presence became problematic during the film's climactic showdown, where audiences would be watching the character's demise. More specifically, audiences would be watching Ego's internal organs hanging loose as his human form goes through some seriously freaky developments.
As you might imagine, this simply wouldn't have been appropriate in the eyes of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America), who currently rate movies with the following guidelines:
- G – General Audiences: All ages admitted. Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.
- PG – Parental Guidance Suggested: Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give "parental guidance". May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.
- PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.
- R – Restricted: Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.
- NC-17 – Adults Only: No One 17 and Under Admitted. Clearly adult. Children are not admitted.
As the visual effects team responsible for tackling the issue, Weta (the prestigious company made famous for their key involvement with The Lord of the Rings franchise) suggested an aesthetic that showed "more fractal, oozing black blood". However, director James Gunn insisted that Ego needed to maintain Kurt Russell's appearance throughout his visual demise.
Tasked with creating an effect that was both true to Gunn's vision and appropriate for a PG-13 audience, Weta then replaced much of the scene's gore with particulate sand. In fact, a member of the VFX team created this effect from scratch, purely for the narcissistic planet's transformation sequence.
“We also grew fractals around the areas of destruction”
Needless to say, the team's innovation paid off, and the film has been a hit with audience members of all ages. The problematic scene even managed to get one of the film's biggest laughs, as Ego attempts to morph his appearance to resemble Knight Rider legend, David Hasselhoff - Peter Quill's pretend father throughout his childhood.
Having become a critical and financial hit since its release, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 has overcome the sophomore slump with resounding success. Thanks to the creative teams at #Weta and Marvel, the #MCU has yet another family friendly adventure for all ages to enjoy.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is currently in theaters.