My first interactions with James Gunn were, to put it lightly, awkward thanks to the particularly strident way in which Harry Knowles took him to task over his work on "Scooby-Doo." I respect the way Gunn has built a career out of a a start in the Troma factory, not a given by any means, and he's been true to his voice as he's worked on larger and larger films, something else that isn't easy.
Making the jump from "Super" to "Guardians Of The Galaxy" has got to be one of the biggest examples of upward mobility in the history of mainstream franchise filmmaking. I liked "Super" a lot when I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, and I thought it was smart, grown-up filmmaking. I moderated a panel with him and Rainn Wilson at SXSW that also revealed just how far Gunn will go for a cheap dick joke. That may sound like a criticism, but it's not. It's just a description of his particular aesthetic. He is a very funny guy, and he's got an anarchist's heart, and all of that is part of the way he brought "Guardians" to the big-screen.
When we spoke, we started by talking about just how real and tactile he made the world so that his cast and, later, the audience would get a sense of just how genuine it all was.
"We did dozens and dozens and dozens of screen tests with different colored skin, trying to get the skin tones right, trying to get the veinage right, trying to get all of that stuff right so that it looked like they weren't just painted aliens, but were people with skin."
We also talked about one of the weirdest big moments of his film, where a puzzle piece that helps tie together the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe is dropped for them, and they have no idea what it is because they've got no connection to anything we've seen happen so far. Hilarious.
"These are people that see a little bit more of the big picture because that's where they are, I guess. On Earth, these other guys, The Avengers, they're not quite tuned in to the bigger picture. They only see a little tiny piece of it. They're holding the ear of the elephant in the dark room. The Collector is… he's got all the lights on."
That statement, by the way, is exactly why Gunn was the right person for this movie. He seems to love being able to play with Marvel iconography in the strangest and most fun ways possible, and I hope he gets to push it even further in "Guardians 2."
"Guardians Of The Galaxy" opens Friday.