How James Gunn Made ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 3’ the Best in the Series
May 4, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
8List.ph is published by ID8, Inc.
May 4, 2023   •   Mikhail Lecaros
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has hit global cinemas, and 8List got the chance to join the global press conference with Producer Kevin Feige, Director James Gunn, and actors Chris Pratt (Star-Lord), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Chukwudi Iwuji (High Evolutionary), Will Poulter (Adam Warlock), Maria Baklova (Cosmo), and Sean Gunn (Kraglin).
Read on to hear how they felt while working on their “final” adventure, and see what we thought of the film!
Since we last saw them, the Guardians have settled into their roles as the de facto protectors and administrators of Knowhere. As his teammates work to get their new base in order, Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Super Mario Bros., Jurassic World) is still reeling from the loss of his beloved Gamorra (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek, Avatar). When a new enemy leaves Rocket (Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born) critically injured, the remaining Guardians set out to find the only man who may hold their teammate’s survival: the High Evolutionary Chukwudi Iwuji (TV’s Peacemaker, Designated Survivor).
Building on the first film’s theme of finding a family, and the second’s assertion of recognizing it in those around you, Vol. 3 is about how far these misfits would go to save one of their own. With the Guardians having been introduced to us as a group, the bonds between them have always been more substantial than those of their counterparts in The Avengers (Earth’s Mightiest Co-workers?).
Where Tony, Steve, and Thor clearly had lives and obligations outside of their team — one of the Avengers’ most significant adventures, Civil War, didn’t even have Thor in it! — the Guardians have only ever had each other. It’s exceedingly difficult (bordering on impossible) to imagine the Guardians as anything other than an interdependent, functionally dysfunctional group.
For all their flaws, it’s remarkable how the Guardians themselves have changed since we first met them in 2014. According to Gunn, who has written and directed the majority of their onscreen adventures, “In terms of the story that we were telling over the three movies, I think that I did have sort of a sense of how it was gonna go from the beginning.”
Gunn’s vision for the Guardians is apparent to the point that, when the characters appeared in other people’s movies (Infinity War, Love & Thunder, etc), the cast would generally reach out to him to consult on how their characters would respond in any given instance. And it’s endlessly satisfying to see how he grows them beyond their original parameters.
Take, for instance, how Nebula and Craglin, characters whose own relatives belittled them their entire lives, have taken to becoming the trusted leaders of Knowhere, or how Drax (Dave Bautista, Glass Onion) has gone from losing his family to taking charge of literal hundreds. Even Rocket, the cyborg that has every reason in the galaxy to be embittered, finds himself fighting to give innocent animals the chance at life he never had, while Mantis — long seen as the most naïve of the group — realizes that she’s never really lived for herself, and expresses a desire to find herself.
While the bulk of these represents plausible, logical character developments borne of their respective journeys, it would be easy to single out team leader Star-Lord as having taken a step back from where we last saw him (in the hilarious Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special). But then, given the wringer he’s been put through, it makes narrative sense. Discussing his character, Pratt said, “He’s a guy who’s constantly been searching for who he is. And then he found it again in his relationship with Gamora. And so, when that’s stripped away from him, he’s a guy who’s realizing that all of these various people that he’s found that are ‘Quill’, none of them have been the real him. And so…he’s lost. And that probably does mean that he’s sad.”
Vol. 3 is as irreverent and freewheeling as its predecessors, but it also features an altogether more focused plot than Vol. 2. From the moment Warlock (Will Poulter, We’re the Millers) first launches his attack on Knowhere, to the showdown that closes the final act, we are treated to a darker — yet no less ridiculous — adventure for these characters. Along the way, Gunn interjects scenes of Rocket’s origin as part of a demented experiment, showing us –in gruesome detail — just why the so-called “trash panda” never wanted to discuss it.
If the MCU was laudable for using good storytelling to make audiences care about a gun-wielding raccoon they’d never heard of back in 2014, what it accomplishes here is even more impressive, as it is precisely our affinity for Rocket that gives the flashbacks their weight; as Rocket grows in captivity with his fellow experiments through sequences of sci-fi body horror and animal abuse, Cooper’s acting chops add devastating gravitas alongside the voices of Linda Cardellini (as Lylla the Otter), Asim Chaudhry (as Teefs the Walrus), and Asim Chaudhry (as Floor the Rabbit).
The aforementioned cruelty would be enough to make Chukwudi Iwuji’s villain detestable, to be sure, but it is his demented performance that elevates the High Evolutionary to the upper echelon of MCU antagonists. This is a man who has no qualms about creating and eliminating billions of lives in his quest for evolutionary perfection, with each differentiated (at best) by little more than experiment numbers. Ostensibly laser-focused on his goal, the High Evolutionary’s massive ego is belied by outbursts of emotional volatility that Iwuji plays to the eye-bulging hilt.
“I don’t think I could’ve dreamed that. I mean, I could’ve dreamed it. I’m not gonna lie. Like, I had hopes,” Gunn said when asked on how he felt taking on the first Guardians of the Galaxy film 12 years ago. “I felt really good about it from the beginning. I felt like we were doing something different. I felt like, you know, the world kind of needed a space fantasy that was different from ones we had seen before. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when my greatest hopes did come true.”
With this film, Gunn cements his status as the only director (who isn’t a Russo brother) whose personal storytelling and aesthetic instincts have rung true and clear throughout his MCU tenure. Over three films and one (absolutely delightful) holiday special, Gunn has lost none of his acumen for blending the most outlandish genre concepts with vivid character work and an eye for spectacle. While it’s certainly valid that he had the benefit of taking on characters nobody had ever heard of, it’s also notable that audiences were under no obligation to fall in love with what he came up with. As the credits roll, and we’re treated to snapshots of the last ten years, the feeling is undeniable — in a franchise spanning a whopping thirty-two films (to date), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 handily closes off the finest trilogy of the MCU.
Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige put it best when he said, “We’ve had trilogies before… why does this feel so different? It’s because Guardians really was the first movie that was completely outside of the realm… it was really our attempt of saying, we don’t wanna just do superhero movies. We don’t want to just do Iron Man movies or Avengers movies. We wanted to do, as James said earlier, a big space movie. And it worked in a crazy way. It worked entirely because of James Gunn. So, it just feels like this trilogy, and James writing and directing all three of them, it represents something unique within the pantheon of the MCU, that I’m very proud of.”
The Guardians of the Galaxy films’ soundtracks have always been just as (if not more) noteworthy as the films they represent, being spiritual encapsulations of each one’s themes and emotions. When asked by host Nathan Fillion (who appears in the film as Master Orgosentry Karja) about how he chooses music, Gunn revealed that he both selects songs before and after writing, noting the added stress that came with Yondu (Michael Rooker, TV’s The Walking Dead) gifting Peter with a Zune in the previous film: “In the first two movies, they were basically all ‘70s pop hits… (now) it’s, you know, music from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s. And it’s all, you know, I could choose from anything… it was very difficult because of that.”
The music sets the tone early on, opening with Radiohead’s acoustic version of “Creep”, a far cry from the feel-good ’70s tunes of yesteryear. Boasting a more eclectic track list than before, we’re treated to songs ranging from the sublime (Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone”) and the raucous (The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”), to the downright joyful (Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”).
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the perfect sort of finale for an ongoing franchise, with James Gunn closing the book on Star-Lord, Drax, Nebula, Rocket, Gamora, and Groot while simultaneously keeping the door open for future appearances. Having completed the MCU’s single best pound-for-pound three-peat, one can’t wait to see what sort of superhero saga Gunn’s got cooking for Warner Brothers.
Think about it: if he could make a pop culture phenomenon out of a talking tree, just imagine what he could do with The Justice League.
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