Like many people, I am counting down the days to the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it wasn’t that long ago, back in 2012, when reactions were confused and mixed, even from the most vocal advocates of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to Marvel’s decision to push forward with GoTG. At that time there were plenty of devoted comic readers who were left scratching their heads over trying to remember one comic they had ever read and loved starring the GoTG. To add insult to injury, those hardcore GoTG fans from the 1970s-90s who knew the team well, were told that their beloved team would not appear in the movie at all and that the movie would feature instead some of the cast from the 2008 relaunch of the title. Later that year Marvel dropped the other bombshell that James Gunn would be writing and directing the movie and the naysayers and short sellers on Wall Street began to rub their hands together with evil glee. Now, two years later hardcore Marvel fans and casual moviegoers alike appear to have completely embraced the idea of Guardians of the Galaxy. With the recent online frenzy for the GoTG trailers and ticket sales already trending favorably towards a solid, possibly strong, opening for the movie on August 1st, it is easy to forget what a colossal gamble Marvel made with this project. Marvel is risking vast sums of money on a property with a relatively small built in audience at a time when audiences seem incredibly skeptical about any big-budget entertainment that isn’t a sequel, remake or reboot. Furthermore, on paper James Gunn also seems like one of the last people that would be trusted with hundreds of millions of dollars. His last feature film, Super (2010) had a budget of $3 million and underperformed at the box office, but the fact that Kevin Feige and Marvel did give him the green light I feel is a testament to their faith in the wildly original work James Gunn has created in the past. James Gunn is an absolutely fearless original storyteller and I have a feeling that his career is about to reach incredible new highs.
I haven’t seen everything that James Gunn has ever worked on but I’ve seen enough to know that anytime James Gunn is not working on a movie, we are missing out on something insane to sink our teeth into. I’m crossing my fingers that GoTG becomes a monster hit, but for anyone unfamiliar with James Gunn, I wanted to compile a list of highlights from his career to serve as a kind of primer before going see his new movie. James Gunn has been working steadily in the movie biz since the 1990s but the first project of his I encountered was the remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) which Gunn wrote for director Zack Snyder. I did not know who James Gunn was at the time but James Gunn was already a seasoned veteran as a screenwriter from his time working for Lloyd Kaufman at Troma starting with the movie Tromeo and Juliet (1996). Gunn went on to write the two Scooby-Doo movies (which I’ve never seen) but all of this work was the just the warmup to his first feature film as a director, the now classic horror-comedy Slither (2006).
I’m a massive fan of films that manage to find that perfect blend of horror and comedy, but it is rare for a movie to pull it off. Slither is one of those rarities that is disturbing, terrifying and hysterical all at once. For the first time we see how great James Gunn can be with actors. The ensemble cast of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker and Gregg Henry all turn in some of the best performances of their careers. I’ve never met anyone that has seen this movie who didn’t have an absolute blast while watching it. The movie in a nutshell takes place in a small hillbilly town and follows all the crazy shit that goes down after an alien lands in the area determined to mass produce and conquer the planet. So many scenes in this movie are absolutely outrageous and James Gunn manages to continually up the ante throughout the entire film. For anyone concerned about the use of comedy in GoTG, take a look at this movie and your fears will be put to rest.
Nathan Fillion delivers the only appropriate reaction to what you see in this film:
After Slither, James Gunn wrote a few pilots before he partnered up with brothers Brian and Sean for some of the funniest short films I’ve ever seen, PG Porn. The premise is simple. PG Porn is for people who love everything about porn except for the sex. Using real adult film stars such as Sasha Grey, Aria Giovani, Bree Olson, & Jenna Haze as well as actors like Nathan Fillion and Craig Robinson, Gunn and his brothers made eight films that have to watched to be believed. Rather than rant about what I love about these movies, I’ve linked three below for your viewing pleasure.
For movie fans that find Kick-Ass to be too safe and conservative for their tastes, I suggest James Gunn’s most recent feature film Super (2010) which was released in the same year. Sadly Super did not enjoy a similar level of success, but it is absolutely worth hunting down. Even more than Kick-Ass, Super tackles the fetishization of superheroes in contemporary geek culture. Rainn Wilson plays an everyday guy who completely loses it when his wife leaves him for a drug dealer. He goes on a masked vigilante rampage as the Crimson Bolt and it isn’t long before his stunts inspire the deliciously adorable Ellen Page to join his crusade as Boltie. Page has been amazing in many movies but this role is hands down my favorite she has ever played. It is always difficult to pin down exactly why a movie does not find a wider audience but Super is one of those movies that I think a lot of people have a hard time digesting. The movie is unrated and features some absolutely savage brutality on top of its many laughs in a way that I think freaks some people out because of the realism. In Slither, the science fiction elements helped keep this combination of violence and comedy at a safe distance, but in Super the gut churning violence is right in your face and feels like it could happen next door. Tonally the movie also constantly switches gears without warning often switching from madcap insanity to heartfelt sadness and I think some audience members just were not prepared to surrender to this style of storytelling. Nonetheless, the movie absolutely kicks ass. The fact that Kevin Feige has seen this movie and still chose to entrust Gunn with hundreds of millions of dollars proves to me that Feige has more testicular fortitude than any other producer in the business.
I’ve included below a variety of interviews and podcasts with James Gunn and one of the things he’s most frank about is how happy he is to leave filmmaking behind him and work as a writer in other mediums. After Super, Gunn took a break from movies and wrote the video game Lollipop Chainsaw. I’m a gaming fanatic but I’ve never played this particular game. I’m including the trailer because it looks right up my alley and very consistent with his work as a filmmaker. I might have to put in an order tonight to have this game delivered to my greedy hands.
At any rate, that’s all I got on James Gunn. I have high hopes for GoTG and after reading some first impressions from the press screening, I’m cautiously optimistic that the movie will deliver. Some of my fellow Marvel zombies are so riled up to see it, I’m terrified they might simply tear James Gunn apart if they are disappointed by the movie. My hope is that if the film is successful, Marvel will find the courage to develop more of their unconventional characters into feature films. I’m thinking of the Inhumans, Adam Warlock, the Runaways, the list goes on and on. Even if the film falls on its face, I’m confident this is not the last we’ve heard from James Gunn and I eagerly look forward to enjoying more of his work in the future.
I am one of the Co-Hosts of the podcast Wrong Reel and you can find our material here:
Interviews and Podcasts: