James Gunn on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and more

The director talks what’s next for the Guardians, plus Star-Lord’s dad and Howard the Duck

With this past summer’s massive Marvel hit Guardians of the Galaxy coming out on Blu-ray and DVD early next month, writer/director James Gunn hosted a press event on the Disney lot in Burbank, California last week to preview some of the Blu-ray’s bonus features and chat with the assembled reporters.

Guardians was a huge risk for Marvel Studios in every way: an expensive summer sci-fi film based on a mostly obscure and weird comic book, brought to the screen by a mostly obscure and weird filmmaker (we kid, James, we kid…sort of), and featuring a cast that included a sitcom star as leading man, a wrestler in a key role and, of course, the talking raccoon and walking tree.

But it somehow all worked and now Guardians is not only a tremendous worldwide success ($770 million at the global box office), but Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is set for May 5, 2017 and the team themselves are sure to factor into the major Phase 3 arc that will include the two-part Avengers: Infinity War epic scheduled for 2018 and 2019.

The Blu-ray event kicked off with a 40-minute preview of the bonus content. In the spirit of the movie itself, a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes on the film’s production and locations are connected by a mock 16-bit game (go here for a preview) called “Galactic Adventurer” that features appearances from Gunn, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, and MCU supervillain Thanos (listen for the Phase 3 jokes).

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There are also featurettes on dancing baby Groot, some of the many background settings and alien races in the film, the mo-cap actors who played Groot and Rocket on set, plus a look at Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voicing those characters respectively, five deleted scenes (including more with John C. Reilly and a terrific confrontation between Gamora and Nebula) and a gag reel (which we got just a brief glimpse of).

Gunn began the Q&A section of the morning by saying that’s “nice to do these interviews and answer questions when I’m not completely terrified,” a reference to the press he did before Guardians came out, when nobody really knew whether the movie would connect with audiences or not. We all know the answer to that question now, and the director is much more confident and relaxed as he discusses Guardians, its sequel and beyond. Here are the highlights:

On Guardians exceeding his wildest expectations: “It didn’t exceed my wildest expectations. I could have beat Cameron (laughs)…There was a moment — I don’t know when it was, I think it was the first day — they told us, you know, tracking said we were supposed to come in at like 65 (million) opening weekend. And we started getting our first weekend numbers and it kept getting higher every day. At first it’s like, ‘Oh my God, we’re gonna be near 80.’ Then we’re gonna be 85. And then we ended up at, you know, 94. I was simply out by the pool with my dog at my house and I almost like got this LSD experience where it wasn’t real. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode. It wasn’t entirely a good feeling. It was sort of creepy but that moment was when I realized ‘Holy shit, we’re doing really well.’”

On pitching Guardians 2 and its place in Marvel’s Phase 3: “I went in, I said, ‘This is what I think we should do in the sequel.’ Kevin said okay and now I’m off dealing with it…Who knows how much we’ve influenced Phase 3, but I think the one thing is that the Guardians aren’t backseat to the Avengers. Captain America, Thor, those other movies, they really do support The Avengers and they do take a backseat to the Avengers in a certain way. Guardians are their own thing. The cosmic Marvel universe is its own thing. Because the movie was so successful — more successful than Iron Man was — that changed the way other people looked at it but I still look at it the same way.”

On not repeating himself in Guardians 2: “We can’t just say okay, well, let’s start with something sad and then shift into something really happy with some music, and let’s have the awesome mix work in exactly the same way only with songs from the 80s as opposed from songs from the 70s. That doesn’t interest me. For me the shift is really about getting to know the characters on a deeper level, knowing them more intimately and uncovering facets of those characters that make them more real to us, you know. Because I think at the center of what works about Guardians is that people like the characters.”

On whether ideas developed in the first movie plant seeds for the second: “Somewhere in between. Some of it was for this movie but there are a lot of things that are way more thought out than they need to be for this movie. In particular, things like the Ravagers are really well, you know, I have to say well thought out but that’s like giving myself a compliment. Good job James. But yeah, there’s some things that are really, really in-depth in the Ravagers culture and how they work.”

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On tweaking Peter Quill’s family history: “You’ll have to wait and see but it’s very different. There are things in the comic book that on film seemed to come out a little too Star Wars to me. I’m not a great fan of the name J’son. So there’ll be a lot of differences from what’s in there. You know, this really is a cinematic universe and the fun of it for me is, I always loved Marvel Ultimate comics where they presented a different story from the way that the origins we got used to were. We saw characters in a new light and what they were like. They’d show up in different places at different ages in different ways. And I think that’s exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is. We see things in a different light. They established that very well in the first Iron Man movie where at the end of the movie Tony Stark says, “I am Iron Man.’ That was the MCU’s way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re different from the comics.’”

On fans responding to the movie on an emotional level: “It’s touching. It’s really touching. I really made the movie completely sincerely and I love the characters and I’m moved by it. Every time I watch the movie and I see Drax pet Rocket’s head I still get teary eyed. Honest to God, still. I loved that moment in particular and I love the movie. I love the characters and I love the people I made the movie with. So to have people respond to it on that emotional level, and to have people get what I was going for with the whole movie, after having a career of doing many things that I thought were pretty obvious what I was doing with them and then sometimes people just didn’t exactly see them how they were — being able to get to the point where I feel like I’m able to speak to people clearly through film is a real joy.”

Is that really Adam Warlock’s cocoon in the Collector’s quarters? “Well…there’s a cocoon that’s exactly like Adam Warlock’s cocoon in the movie. I wasn’t really thinking that much when I put that in. That was my idea to put that in there. They were like, ‘Hey, what should we put in?’ So I went through the Marvel handbook and just picked cool things that looked neat to put in. I was like, ‘Fuck, it looks like Adam Warlock’s cocoon.’ Now everybody thinks he’s out of there…There’s a lot of stuff in there. And there’s also a lot of stuff that people think they see that I don’t think is in there unless the visual effects guys were pulling tricks on me, which they could have been, you know.”

On why he chose Howard the Duck for the post-credits scene: “Originally the tag scene was going to be dancing baby Groot. And we loved it so much that I was like, ‘I think we should put it at the very end of the movie.’ I also liked that we had the rights to the Jackson Five song for dancing baby Groot and I liked the way that it ended with Peter flying away and that song playing. So that worked well at the very end of the movie which meant we didn’t have a tag scene. We didn’t have a tag scene to connect us to something else or to lead to the future. So I found this footage I had of Benicio that I actually shot for the montage at the end because the montage originally had Nebula and Benicio and Grandpa Quill in it. But we cut them for a lot of different reasons. So I had that footage and I’m like, ‘What could he see?’ And I started going through it and I’m like, ‘He could see something in that box over there. What could he see in that box?’ Then I don’t know if it was me or my editor, Fred Raskin, who said Howard the Duck. We started laughing and decided it was really funny. And then we told Kevin and he started laughing and he thought it was really funny. So that’s really all it is. We just thought it was funny.”

Guardians of the Galaxy arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on December 9.

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