From Comic Book To Box-Office Hit: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2

”I wanted to make the best, most moving story possible. It’s about making a story that is worthy of who the Guardians are as characters and making a film that is about those characters that’s worthy of them, and I hope that we’ve done that.”

Writer-director James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the action-packed, irreverent, epic space adventures of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord and his gang of eccentric characters as they patrol and protect the universe, doing mercenary work in the wake of the popularity and fame they garnered from saving Xandar.

When the uniquely creative and original film was released in the summer of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy became a worldwide box-office sensation, with audiences warmly embracing the eccentric cast of intergalactic characters.

James Gunn is the prolific filmmaker behind some of pop culture’s most notable feature films. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Gunn began his filmmaking career at the age of twelve by making a zombie movie with an eight-millimeter camera and an actor, his brother Sean. Thirty years later, Gunn brought to life what is now turning into one of the most memorable franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

James Gunn is the prolific filmmaker behind some of pop culture’s most notable feature films. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Gunn began his filmmaking career at the age of twelve by making a zombie movie with an eight-millimeter camera and an actor, his brother Sean. Thirty years later, Gunn brought to life what is now turning into one of the most memorable franchises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy.


Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, the story follows the team as they fight to keep their newfound family together while traversing the outer reaches of the cosmos to unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand.

Writer/director James Gunn recalls his reaction to seeing the characters being propelled into the pop-culture zeitgeist.  “It was truly gratifying and fulfilling that the Guardians’ characters spoke so profoundly to so many people all over the world,” says Gunn.  “At the core of the film, the Guardians are a group of outsiders who come together and find a way to make it work. I think that’s what speaks to such a wide array of people. It’s a great feeling when kids come up and say they loved the film and that their parents and grandparents loved it as well. These characters were able to connect to all generations around the world from Thailand to South America to London.”

Created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the Guardians of the Galaxy were introduced in 1969 as a team of heroes in the 31st century—each member the last of its kind.

GOTG2 PosterWith the phase two expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Guardians of the Galaxy was the first franchise introduced outside of the core Marvel cornerstone characters. The film was also a dramatic departure in tone and style from any previous Marvel film franchises.

Looking back to the development of the franchise, Feige acknowledges it wasn’t always an easy sell.

“A number of years ago we were saying that we wanted to do a space movie,” he says. “And looking through the books, we realized we had this great group of characters that had been re-formed in publishing recently called the Guardians of the Galaxy and what an outrageous grouping of people it was—most outrageously that one member was a tree and another member was a raccoon.”

Continuing, Feige adds, “I took a lot of joy in pitching that to people who had never heard of it. But it took a huge leap forward when we hired James Gunn, who initially wondered what we were talking about, and then drove home and thought about it more and tapped into his love of these kinds of movies, his love of little animals and his love of characters.”

When they met again, Gunn was 100% on board with the project. “He rewrote the script, did a new outline and added some songs,” Feige recalls. “And we knew we had something even more special than we were anticipating, and the audience responded to that. The film came out and was the success that it was. It was great because that really proves the point of you don’t have to have ever read any of these comics. You don’t have to even ever have heard of any of these comics.”

Feige was convinced that “if we deliver the movie, that’s all that matters. We knew even before the film came out that we were feeling very good about it and that the buzz was very good. And we knew the film delivered.”


Crafting The Story

Postproduction on the Guardians of the Galaxy helped to provide director James Gunn with the roadmap to find the story in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, particularly when it came to audience reactions during screenings. The way audiences responded to the different elements of the first movie gave filmmakers a leg up in terms of story direction for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

“I knew where I wanted the story to go before the first film was out in theaters,” explains writer/director James Gunn.

“I knew what the general shape of the sequel was going to be, but the one thing I had to figure out was if I was going to tell the story of Peter Quill and his father as Volume 2, which I thought was the big reveal or save it for a later time. Ultimately I decided that it was the best story I have in hand right now and went with.”

The Guardians of the Galaxy successfully introduced the world to an eccentric group of selfish, self-interested, un-superhero like characters who are thrown together with the task of saving the entire galaxy.

For Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn was tasked with delivering a story that continued not just their exploits, but their evolutions as characters as well. When Gunn delivered his initial treatment for the story, it was a hit with his fellow filmmakers.

“What I loved about James’ vision for the film was that it was everything you love about the film—the characters, the humor, the action, the music—but it also evolved the story and franchise in a really interesting way that felt completely organic,” says executive producer Jonathan Schwartz.

“Every character is a different person at the end of the story than they are at the beginning. So keeping the characters moving forward keeps the franchise moving forward in a really honest way which is what made it really interesting to us.”

“I think one of the big advantages that James had the second time around was that he could write the script specifically for all of the actors’ voices,” adds executive producer Nikolas Korda.

“On most films you are not sure who is going play what when the script is in the development phase. Going into this film we knew almost all the characters’ voices and rhythms, what worked and what didn’t in the first film. So that really allowed James to dial the story in very early on and play to the strengths of all the actors in the film.”

And now what can fans expect from the highly anticipated sequel’s storyline? Producer Kevin Feige gives some hints: “When we started turning the wheels on a sequel, there were some very obvious clues at the end of the first film where the storyline could go. Peter talks about his father. Glenn Close, Nova Prime, tells us something very ancient, very unusual. Yondu tells us that he purposefully did not deliver Peter to his father. So James went back and started to work on where that would take us in a storyline. And it takes us to a place where we meet the Guardians only a few months after the events of Guardians 1.

“We meet them in the midst of a job, and we introduce some new villains. And more importantly we introduce some new heroes, most importantly Mantis, who is an amazing new addition to the Guardians. Returning characters Yondu and Nebula play surprising new roles in the film, and we continue to deepen the relationship between Peter Quill and Gamora, which we’ll see more of.

“Also we further the evolution of Rocket, who is not the nicest raccoon around, but who certainly has a begrudging loyalty to his team. Then we meet a new version of our beloved Groot who has crawled out of the little pot that we saw him dancing in in the first film and now is our new Baby Groot for this film,” Feige concludes.


The Cast Of Characters Return

As the cast returns to inhabit the colorful, unique, dysfunctional Guardians characters, there is a new dynamic. The first movie was about becoming a family and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” focuses on being a family.

As James Gunn explains, “This movie is about all of the characters being a family. And being a family is a lot more difficult than becoming a family. It’s a much more complicated story. In the first movie, a bunch of characters are outsiders. They come together. But where does that leave them?”

And that’s exactly what audiences will discover as the characters’ relationships unfold, starting with Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, who faces a family issue that he is compelled to resolve—his true parentage. Chris Pratt reprises the role that propelled him into Marvel fandom and leading-man status.

On casting Chris Pratt as Star-Lord/Peter Quill, James Gunn says, “When I was auditioning Star-Lord the first time around I was looking for somebody who’d come in, do everything that was on the page, do it well, do it in a funny way, but also give that a little something extra that made Peter Quill a little bit of a different character. And Chris came in and did that immediately. Chris is a very unique movie star in that he is a combination of being a big, masculine guy but also a very vulnerable guy. He has a vulnerability that the classic movie stars hint at, whether it’s Humphrey Bogart or Gary Cooper. Chris really brings that to life on the screen, and I think that’s what makes him a truly modern-day movie star.”

For Pratt, “Guardians of the Galaxy” afforded him the vehicle to showcase both his comedic and physical talents in a way that he had not been able to do on film. “What appealed to me the most about this character was the opportunity to add my own personal brand of humor into it,” comments Pratt. “This was something that I knew I could do that was unique to me, and I had been dying for an opportunity to do that. I wanted to do something that was both comedic and physical. This role is a comfortable space to do that. What is so exciting to me is that I can just do the best version of my best stuff with Star-Lord.”

Zoe Saldana returns to the role of the deadly, green-skinned assassin Gamora, another character dealing with family issues related to the fact that her adoptive father is Thanos and her sister is Nebula.

“Gamora is surrounded by these idiots, the Guardians of the Galaxy, who are making her life very difficult,” adds Gunn. “She loves them. She knows she loves them. She’s aware of that. But then she has one guy, Peter Quill, who’s saying he’s in love with her, which she’s not that comfortable with. The boys are fighting constantly, and they’re all a pain. She doesn’t have any female companionship. She’s in a spot, since it’s only a couple months after the first movie, where they’re all having growing pains and sophomoric moments in their relationships. Then she comes face-to-face with her sister Nebula at the beginning of the movie. For Gamora there’s an emotional part of this. She has a fair amount of spite for her sister and on the other hand her sister says she just wants to kill her. And that is where we start Gamora’s story.”

Dave Bautista is back as the physically intimidating, tattoo-covered Drax.

According to Bautista, there is much to like about his character. “What I really love about Drax is he’s not what you’d expect from reading the comics,” says Bautista. “Everybody was expecting one thing, and we gave them another. It makes it more interesting. It’s easy just to be the big guy who’s always growling at people and intimidating people. We’ve seen it a million times. But when you get the same guy who looks the same way but just says the most ridiculous things that make you laugh, it makes him more interesting. And he’s also got that side to him that’s just all heart. He’s still heartbroken over the loss of his family. And I love that dynamic, man. I love playing with that. It’s challenging. It makes it’s interesting. It makes the character loveable and it makes people connect to him.”

When it comes to voices, James Gunn knows Rocket’s better than anyone as the director has many times professed that there is a little bit of himself in the character. Rocket, a tortured little beast who’s been torn apart and put back together, is still incredibly funny and heartfelt at times, particularly as voiced again by Academy Award® nominee Bradley Cooper.

Cooper acknowledges that both he and the filmmakers learned a lot about Rocket from doing the first movie and following the character’s journey. “We have a better understanding of who Rocket is,” Cooper says. “With the technology evolving, I think also the character has evolved. That’s been a fun process to be a part of. I’m just a small part of Rocket—so many people go into who Rocket is.”

A scene stealer in “Guardians of the Galaxy” with only the same three words of ‘I am Groot,’ was the wise, old, talking humanoid tree creature Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel. Despite his unique appearance and extremely limited communication skills, Groot embedded himself in the heart of audiences around world with just those three little words. A valuable ally and a loyal friend to Rocket and the Guardians, the character makes the ultimate sacrifice and returns in the sequel as a baby Groot.

Voiced again by Diesel, the little Groot is a totally different character. “He doesn’t have the memories of adult Groot and he is a baby,” explains Gunn. “He’s completely adorable, but has a lot more anger issues than adult Groot did. All of the other characters react to Baby Groot in different ways. Drax doesn’t like him. Rocket yells at him a lot, but he is okay with him.  Gamora definitely has motherly instincts towards him, and Quill barely acknowledges his existence.”

Here Come The Guardians

What can audiences expect when the Guardians of the Galaxy blast back into their lives?

“What I’m really hoping for is that they’ll get all of the different aspects they loved about the first movie but in a completely different way,” says Chris Pratt.  “People go the movie theater to have a profound life or mood-changing experience and this film is going to really knock their socks off.”

“This film has a ton of laughs, but it also tackles a lot of emotional issues like relationships with fathers, friends, siblings and asks the question what is family to you and how do you grow and evolve as an adult,” adds Zoe Saldana. “I love that about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,’ because it gives you a very human essence even though it takes place in another galaxy and universe. I think audiences are really going to connect to this film and all of the heart and the great story it tells.”

Karen Gillan believes everyone will relate to the family theme of the movie. “There are so many aspects of that storyline throughout the film” Gillan says. “Everybody’s going to find something in this film that they can connect with and understand. Also, it’s so funny. People are going to have a really good time, and they’re going to be entertained. And they’re going to hear some good music.”

Dave Bautista is confident that audiences will connect to the film on a personal level as well. “The first film was more about people coming together for the greater good,” Bautista says. “And I think this film is more about relationships with people. It is the story of a family. Your family doesn’t always have to be blood family. They can be chosen family. So I think this is more of a relationship film, and everyone can relate to that.”

Producer Kevin Feige comments, “What James has done with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ is something very unique and very special that continues everything that was unique and special about the first film but really evolves it and takes it to new unexpected surprising places. James said, ‘Look, the first film was a creative risk. We all decided together to do something very different. We have to do that again.’ And that’s what he’s done. And I can’t wait for people to see it.”

On that thought, Gunn sums up, “I hope that we have picked up the mantle of the first film and taken it to another place. I wanted to make the best, most moving story possible. It’s about making a story that is worthy of who the Guardians are as characters and making a film that is about those characters that’s worthy of them, and I hope that we’ve done that.”