James Gunn used to be the beloved cult filmmaker behind low-budget genre flicks like Slither and Super. Then August happened, and James Gunn became the beloved filmmaker behind the decidedly-not-low-budget space-(rock-)opera Guardians of the Galaxy, currently the highest grossing movie of 2014 at the domestic box office. Guardians arrives on Blu-Ray on December 9.
At a special screening of the Blu-Ray extras on Wednesday morning, Gunn looked like a man midway between the victory lap and the next race. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is already in the works for 2017, and word spread across the Internet that he was already thinking ahead to Guardians 3. Gunn clarified that his ideas about the future of the Marvel Cosmic-verse aren’t necessarily focused on a threequel, noting that Guardians has “lots of characters that could go in a lot of different directions.”
After the screening, Gunn sat down with EW to talk about introducing Marvel’s Big Bad, bringing color back to space, and the version of Guardians of the Galaxy he’d love to make (and probably never will.)
A lot of people have compared the Thanos introduction in Guardians to the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back. How difficult was it to introduce this character who’s a minor part of this movie but a major part of the franchise going forward?
We definitely talked about the Emperor. The most difficult thing was to introduce Thanos in a way where he’s cool, but not make our antagonist, Ronan, look like a wuss in the process. That was a real delicate balance.
This is a big Marvel movie, but there are a lot of personal touches that feel closer to your own filmography, like the presence of Michael Rooker. What was the push-pull like between your own style and the Marvel house style?
I made a decision early on that I wanted it to be a hundred percent a James Gunn movie and a hundred percent a Marvel movie. I didn’t want it to be a compromise. I wanted to make a great Marvel movie that I wanted to see, that was also my movie, that had my personality in it.
I was attached to a big movie a few years ago. I started writing the screenplay, and it kept getting vanilla-zed. And it became, like: “Fuck! At this point, anybody could come in and direct this movie.”
“We’ve hired you, James Gunn, now can you please not be James Gunn now?”
“Be a generic movie director.” It was so frustrating to me, and I just walked.
What was the movie?
It was Pets. Dealing with Stuart Cornfeld, it was a bad experience. And I left. [mumbles under his breath] Boy, am I gonna get fucked for that. [pause] I don’t care.
Can you talk a bit about the color scheme of Guardians? It’s so much brighter than a lot of recent blockbuster movies.
When I first was asked to do this movie, the first thing that came to me was being able to create a colorful science-fiction world, that took elements of the pulp movies of the 1950s and the 1960s that had been completely lost in cinema. We’re going to outer-space! Why are they all fucking steel-colored? Why is every spaceship ever steel-colored! These are individuals that drive spaceships! That’s how they get from planet to planet!
The Ravagers, their spaceships are all based on muscle cars. The way they feel, the way they touch, the way they move, the sound design. These characters have personality they want to express. I instantly felt that was filling a hole. It’s been missing. It’s something people have been dying to see.
What are some of the minor characters in the movie you want to explore more in future films?
Yondu and Kraglin, the Ravagers. And I love Nebula. I think that she is underutilized in the film. I want to see more of her. The Collector.
So Benicio Del Toro will be playing a role in future films?
He’ll reappear. I don’t know if he’s gonna been the next one. I do think his story is really compelling, and I think he’s one of those very interesting shades of gray characters.
You’re going into the sequel. So many sequels, many good, many bad, some go bigger, darker. Any lessons you take with you: Here’s what NOT to do?
I would say the main thing is: Don’t just copy yourself, which is what a lot of sequels do. And in some cases it works. Like James Bond movies. But James Bond is a different type of character. This is many characters. I think Guardians, at the end, is not the structure of a comic book movie, it’s not the structure of an action-adventure, it’s not the structure of a comedy. It’s the structure of a family drama. So how does that play itself out?
It does feel like you could have a two-hour movie of just these characters on a ship, getting on each others’ nerves.
I would love to do the version of Guardians that’s just those guys arguing for two hours in a room.
Glengarry Glen Ross on a spaceship!
You’re giving me ideas. We’d save a lot of money. Except the problem is, I wouldn’t save a lot of money, because of those shots of Rocket.
The Collector’s museum has one cage that appears to contain some of the space slugs from Slither Confirm or deny: Does Slither take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It would seem that it does. [laughs]
Why do you think people specifically refer to Guardians of the Galaxy as a “weird” movie? Like, the Thor movies are just as outré and crazy in their own way, with Norse gods and rainbow bridges.
I think the Thor movies are much more conventional films than Guardians. I really do think that Guardians came in and did things that spectacle movies just haven’t done. And it’s not like movies haven’t done them. The way music is moved in the movie is used a lot by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Paul Thomas Anderson. They use music just like we use it in this movie. But those guys all make a different type of film than a big spectacle film. I really think there’s a lot of independent filmmaking stylistics within Guardians that makes it a different sort of spectacle film.
I also think people are completely more than ready for it. I think that people have been — I think that Hollywood has been treating people like they’re stupid for a long time. Not 100 percent of the time, but a good 70 percent of the time. I don’t think that’s the case. Guardians proves that.