This week’s big Marvel movie news is the report “Slither” and “Super” director James Gunn is Marvel’s top choice to direct the forthcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. A deal has yet to be worked out, but the news has set fans’ minds ablaze with the possibilities of what Gunn could bring to the franchise.
Given that, we’re going to take a look at Gunn’s creative experience, and how it could connect with what we know of the Guardians and Marvel’s plans for the film.
Gunn got his start working for Troma Entertainment, maker of low-budget exploitation films, for whom he wrote and co-directed 1996’s cult hit “Tromeo and Juliet,” an adaptation of the Shakespeare classic with heightened sex and violence. While a Disney-owned superhero blockbuster is unlikely to go in that direction, his experience with Troma proves one thing that makes him extremely valuable to Disney and Marvel: he knows how to work within a budget.
After leaving Troma, Gunn first dipped his toe in superhero waters with 2000’s “The Specials,” a well-received parody which Gunn wrote, performed in, and produced on a low $1 million budget, with a solid cast including Thomas Haden Church, Rob Lowe, and Jamie Kennedy. “The Specials” focused on an average day-in-the-life of a struggling superhero team, and demonstrated Gunn’s preference for sly humor, something that will no doubt come in handy when tackling some of “Guardians'” more outrageous concepts.
Also in 2000, Gunn released his first novel, “The Toy Collector,” a semi-autobiographical tale of one man’s obsession with acquiring the toys of his youth. In it, Gunn reveals his love for the Rom Spaceknight toys, and the lengths to which his character, at least, is willing to go to lay his hands on them. The Rom toys were licensed by Marvel for a 1980s comic book series about a heroic Spaceknight who fights evil across the galaxy, by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Steve Ditko, which still holds a significant cult following. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, creators of the current incarnation of the Guardians, gave the Spaceknights a key role in their Annihilation: Conquest miniseries which led into the Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing, and later had one of the Spaceknights, Ikon, join the Guardians’ successor team, the Annihilators. Although Rom himself (at least with his classic appearance and name) is owned by toymaker Hasbro, and can’t be featured in any Marvel works unless they pay licensing fees, Gunn could indulge his passion by adopting a similar approach to Abnett and Lanning, and bring Ikon or other Spaceknights into the “Guardians” film.
On the strength of his work on “The Specials,” Gunn was hired to script 2002’s “Scooby-Doo” live action film, giving him experience in working with computer-generated talking animals, something that will be a prerequisite for the “Guardians” film. His screenplay for 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” showed his darker side, a skill that will come in handy when portraying some of the horrific menaces the Guardians must face.
Gunn’s 2006 film “Slither” combined his talents for horror and comedy into a film about an alien invasion, a theme that may tie in well with the “Guardians” concept. It also afforded him the opportunity to work with fan-favorite actor Nathan Fillion, whose name has been bandied about as an ideal choice for Star-Lord, the Guardians’ take-charge commando leader. Gunn is also close friends with frequent Fillion collaborator Joss Whedon, who just happens to be contributing creatively to Marvel’s Phase Two movies, “Guardians” included.
And in a bit of serendipity that not even Gunn himself could script, Gunn is one of the rare directors in Hollywood who has experience in the highly sought-after talking raccoon department, having created “Sparky and Mikaela,” an Xbox Live show about a superhero crimefighting duo that is one part human, one part procyonid, meaning Rocket Raccoon fans can rest assured Gunn will portray their hero with the authenticity he deserves.
Gunn most recently returned to his theme of deconstructing superheroes with a dark comedic take in 2010’s “Super,” which reunited him with Nathan Fillion, along with a notable cast including Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon. If “Super” is anything to go by — and given the tone of his overall body of work, it would seem that this is what the powers-that-be at Marvel are interested in Gunn for — then “Guardians of the Galaxy” may turn out to be the most subversive take on superheroes of any Marvel movie to date.