How the world has changed. Back in 2014, nobody expected Guardians of the Galaxy to be a success; in fact, fans feared this could be the movie where Marvel would jump the shark. A talking raccoon and a walking tree – how is that a movie? Three years later, we're eagerly awaiting the sequel, and this time it's anticipated to gross a whopping $160 million in its opening weekend, cracking the all-time top-ten in cinema history.
- 'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2': News, Trailer, Release Date, Plot, Cast, Characters & All You Need To Know
No surprise, we now know that a third chapter is on the cards - and James Gunn is involved yet again! While that's sure to leave fans delighted, it also raises an intriguing point: that Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly unlike any other property at Marvel Studios. It seems to be bound to the career of this visionary writer and director in a way unlike any other Marvel property. So what is it that makes Guardians of the Galaxy the ultimate Son of a Gunn?
An Unusual Amount Of Creative Freedom
Marvel seems to like trilogies, but here's the remarkable thing. No other Marvel trilogy has retained the same director for all three films. Jon Favreau left the Iron Man movies after Iron Man 2; interference from the (now-shut-down) Marvel Creative Committee left him frustrated, feeling he was sacrificing his story for the sake of the overarching narrative of the #MCU. Joss Whedon abandoned the flagship Avengers franchise for similar reasons after Avengers: Age of Ultron "broke" him.
Yet #JamesGunn is sticking around. And the main reason, I think, is because he's been allowed an unusual amount of freedom. After all, he isn't just the director of these films; he's the writer. Not even the powerful Russo Brothers, directors of the last two Captain America films, and of the next two Avengers movies, have that distinction. In fact, you have to look outside Marvel Studios to Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer for runs of this kind of length!
In an FAQ published last year, Gunn was asked how much story Marvel gave him for the sequel. His response?
"Nothing. The film, story, and character arcs are all mine."
Guardians of the Galaxy is set in a cosmic corner of the MCU, one that doesn't interact with the other heroes. In most Marvel films, writers and directors have to tie in to the long-term vision of #KevinFeige; not so for #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy. There's a strong sense in which these are James Gunn films rather than Marvel Studios films. Frankly, that seems to be working out just fine.
James Gunn's Love Of The Characters
Part of it, I think, is that James Gunn clearly cares so much for these characters. It was inevitable that the Guardians would eventually link up to the Avengers somehow, and that's finally happening in #InfinityWar. But even here, Gunn has ensured the characters remain consistent. As he explained on Facebook Live:
"I'm an executive producer on Infinity War. I've been working hard with the Russo Brothers, the Marvel guys, Kevin Feige to make sure that any of the characters that I'm involved with that are in that movie are well taken care of and are as funny as they should be, and is as honest and truthful as they should be, so I've been dealing with them all the time. I've been talking to the actors on set every single day as we go through production and it's been a great experience."
James Gunn didn't create these characters, but did shepherd them to the screen, and he feels a sense of ownership of the crew. Gunn is doing his level best to ensure their character growth is true to the foundations he's set. In part, I think that's possible presicely because the Guardians were so little-known prior to 2014's blockbuster hit.
The Russo brothers can't possibly have a sense of ownership when it comes to Captain America. For all they've directed two phenomenal "Captain America" movies, they'll always be aware that the character is greater than them. In contrast, James Gunn took ownership of characters few fans had ever heard of, characters who didn't even have a strong following in the comics. He drastically redefined some in the process. Star-Lord, for example, is pretty much unrecognizable, although the comics have now followed Gunn's lead, redesigning the printed version of the character to fit with the films!
What's more, as both writer and director Gunn has developed a relationship with these characters unlike anything Marvel's other directors can enjoy. He knows them in a way no one else at Marvel can; he's charted their journey from script to screen, and been with them every step of the way.
A Strong Relationship With Cast And Fans
Gunn's affinity for the Guardians shines through in everything he says and does. The Guardians of the Galaxy movies appear to be a labor of love for the filmmaker, and that has clearly had a profound impact on his cast. We first learned that Gunn was involved in Infinity War when Zoe Saldana was interviewed by IGN. She explained that she wasn't at all worried about her character joining up with the Avengers, explaining breezily:
"James Gunn is a producer... I know that he won't ever let the integrity of what he's created for the Guardians ever be compromised, so I'm at ease."
The rest of the crew seem just as committed to Gunn's vision. When Chris Pratt heard Gunn's pitch for #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy2, he said it "put tears in my eyes". And the relationship between Gunn and Vin Diesel seems to be filled with warmth; on another of James Gunn's frequent Facebook Live sessions, Vin Diesel appeared and commented:
"It's weird having a friend like James Gunn, because he's your friend, and then you watch what he does and you go 'My friend is a genius.' Not just great in a particular profession, but a genius, someone who takes 100 plus blank pages and creates something that blows your mind, from the typewriter to the screen."
Going beyond the cast, Gunn has also built up a trusting relationship with the fans. That's all the more remarkable when you consider the creative license Gunn takes with the franchise. Fans usually respond to changes with frustration and anger, treating the original comics like some sort of holy text. But they've been won over by Gunn's heart, which he wears on his sleeve – or, at least, on his social media channels.
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Follow James Gunn on Facebook and you'll bear witness to a stream of FAQs, videos, live chats, and random observations. His love for the franchise consistently shines through his statements, and he spends so much time online chatting to his fans. James Gunn's success is, in part, testimony to the positive power of social media; he uses every resource at his disposal in dialogue with the fans. The fans, in turn, have come to respect and love him for it. This marks Gunn as different from most other writers and directors – and it gives him a fanbase that's unusually passionate and ready to follow him, and the characters we now think of as his, into the far corners of the Galaxy.