James Gunn directed Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie which took the fictional universe established in the Avengers films and pushed the boundaries of that narrative reality into the furthest reaches of the cosmos.
So the man knows something about shared cinematic universes, which makes the mini-essay he posted to his Facebook page over the weekend all the more urgent. Titled “Carts Before Horses & Hollywood’s New Love of Shared Universes,” the post is most definitely not a rant against cinematic universes: Gunn begins by explaining that he loves “big ass shared universes in movies,” and he goes on to hold up Star Wars, The Dark Knight, Twilight, Transformers, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as good examples of film series that built off the success of their first films.
But Gunn is worried about the new trend of launching megafranchises before the first film arrives in theaters—what Gunn describes as “trying to grow trees without a strong seed.” (Pause for mandatory reference.) “Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes.”
Gunn doesn’t name names, but the post arrives just a couple weeks after Universal announced their intention to create a shared-universe Monster mega-franchise, with a “brain trust” of creatives already attached—language that recalls Sony’s late 2013 announcement that they had assembled a brain trust to create a series of Amazing Spider-Man sequels and spinoffs. (One year later, only one of those movies is still in active development.) Last month, Sony floated the notion of a Robin Hood shared universe. And since the Dark Knight films are a closed trilogy, it’s plausible to connect Gunn’s statements to the incipient DC Shared Universe, Warner Bros’ aggressive expansion of the financially successful-but-unadored Man of Steel.
Gunn’s not picking any fights, though—he mainly seems focused on reminding the industry that every movie should feel like a “single great film,” not just an unimportant part of a larger whole. “Remember that we as an industry exist to serve audiences,” he concludes. “We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that’s simply not possible.” Check out the full post here, or read below.
Thoughts on Gunn’s thoughts? Can’t wait until Frankenstein Untold and Wolfman Untold cross over with Dracula Untold in Monster Squad Untold? Email me at email@example.com, and I’ll respond in a future edition of the Geekly mailbag.