We talk to the director of Marvel’s latest comic book adaptation…

With GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, writer/director James Gunn had the advantage of surprise. “Not many people knew this particular Marvel world, and that meant we could have a little fun here,” he tells Movies.ie.

If J. J. Abrams ever goes missing, good news – we’ve got a spare. Another one of those Children-of-Spielberg – SUPER 8 filmmaking in the back garden, followed by student film awards, B-movie and cult work, and, finally, that Hollywood embrace – James Gunn is a man clearly made for these times. “I do feel connected to where film is at right now,” states the 43-year-old writer/director/producer/actor/author/songwriter. “I like the idea of entertaining, you know? To me, that’s not a weakness but a strength.”

Which may explain why GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – basically MARVEL’S AVENGERS ASSEMBLE in space – is so darn good. The plot, the characters and the settings may be familiar to us all now (putting Indiana Jones in the first STAR WARS just about covers it though), but GUARDIANS fires on pretty much every cylinder. I think it might just be a hit.

“I hope so,” smiles Gunn. “We were having dinner last night, after the London premiere, and we all just felt the same way – this is special. Everything just clicked, and we’re so very, very happy that it did. Doing junkets is tough enough, but going out there with a movie that, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite work, that’s torture.
“Well, on this junket tour, it’s been nothing but smiling faces. You know people really like the movie.”
There’s a lot riding on Marvel Studio’s 9th outing since 2008’s IRON MAN put them firmly on top. Those first eight films grossing $6.1billion at the box-office have pretty much concreted the shift in Hollywood from the old star system to the franchise being king. In this brave new world, it’s the brand that matters, not the leading man. Only Robert Downey Jr. – enjoying that late-career wild-card boom experienced for a few years by Depp post-PIRATES – is getting big money amidst all this Marvel moolah madness.

Every studio dreams of the James Bond scenario, where changing your leading man every few years is actually a plus not a minus. “It is a new world out there,” nods Gunn, “and it’s great for filmmakers. It’s brought all the power back to the director, and now, more than ever, it’s about what he wants to see up there on the screen. These days, you don’t have a star changing a scene because they don’t look like a complete hero.
“It’s so refreshing to work with a studio like Marvel too, because this is a studio that only cares about the audience. They want the film to be a kick for them, and they’re not letting anything get in the way of that. I still can’t quite believe that they let me make GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY exactly the way that I wanted. From that first meeting, I drew up 19 pages of what I wanted this GUARDIANS world to look like, and that’s what made it up on the screen. “This was such a blissful film to make…”

Not that the 85-day shoot was all high-fives and back-slapping. “It was tough at times, sure, as any major production will be,” says Gunn, “but the hard part was getting the CGI just right, or having the set modelled just the way you envisaged it. Just technical stuff. “As an artist, you should always be pushing the limits, stretching to reach something new and exciting, and what makes it all worthwhile is having a script that you believe in, a great cast – man, this is such a great ensemble here – and producers who just let you get on with the job at hand… To be honest, I can’t wait for the second GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movie. I’m not even sure that I’m going to sleep all that much until we do get to make it…”

Words: Paul Byrne

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is released in Irish cinemas on July 31st