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A User’s Guide To The Guardians Of The Galaxy

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As Marvel unleashes its boldest blockbuster yet, director James Gunn tells you all you need to know...

Think you know comic-book films? Think again. This summer, blockbuster behemoth Marvel is releasing its most audacious adaptation yet: Guardians Of The Galaxy, a bonkers blend of broad strokes superhero action and quirky comedy, with barely a chosen one or hero’s chest in sight.

Based on the story of a space outlaw (Chris Pratt, most notably from US sitcom Parks And Recreation) who teams up with a talking shrub, a vicious mutant raccoon, a tattooed warrior and a green lady to bring down an intergalactic git named Ronan, this isn’t your dad’s Marvel franchise. In fact, there’s so much to tee up that we thought we’d let director James Gunn fill you in…

The universe expands

“Guardians Of The Galaxy has a fairly tenuous connection to the Marvel universe on film,” says Gunn. “In this one, we’ve left Earth and we’re into this whole new galaxy of planets and races. In the future it’ll be more connected, but right now it’s building a whole new wing on to the Marvel universe. I didn’t feel bound by the fact that it was Marvel, and we didn’t have to build a character to fit into The Avengers. There are links, of course, but we’re like this funky offshoot into these crazy worlds.”

Ditching the darkness

“We’re heavily influenced by Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Not necessarily in terms of style, but we want to make people today feel how they did when they saw these movies for the first time. There’s a lot of emotion in Guardians Of The Galaxy, we’re not afraid of drama with these characters, but it’s just that in addition to the emotions, we want people to have a good time. We’re not afraid to be pulpy and have bright colours. We’re looking at the fun films of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies such as Forbidden Planet for inspiration. Some of the modern superhero movies are like the movie equivalent of duck face – you’re trying so hard to be serious it just gets goofy. We’re going to look back on these films the way we look at those early Goth rock photos from the Eighties – they were trying so hard to be serious, but really they were just kids who got into their moms’ make-up cabinets.”

The cuddly superhero

“We’re in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, and our way in is via the point of view of Peter Quill, or Star-Lord – a human who was abducted from Earth in the Eighties, and is now a kind of intergalactic outlaw. Casting him was tough – we looked at 100 guys, from A-list stars to unknowns. Nobody seemed right. The casting director said I should take a look at Chris Pratt. I thought, ‘What? The fat guy from Parks And Rec?’ I didn’t want to see him, but he snuck in, and within 20 seconds I knew he was our guy. I was hopeful he was going to lose the weight, but if he didn’t lose it we were just going to have the world’s first chubby superhero. He did, but he’s still cuddly. I still like to cuddle with Chris occasionally.”

Amy Pond meets Clint Eastwood

“Karen Gillan is in the movie, but she’s almost unrecognisable under her make-up. I think even Doctor Who fans may struggle to see her. We started shooting using her Scottish accent, but we wanted her character to have this badass monotone – and you can’t get further away from monotone than Karen’s sing-song Scottish accent. So we got her doing her best Clint Eastwood impression, which was far more intimidating.”

Casting Bradley Cooper

“We have a major character who’s a genetically engineered raccoon, as well as being one of the galaxy’s greatest warriors. Not the easiest part to cast, right? He was always going to be animated, but the voice was hard to nail down. We had voice actors and comics come in, but they were doing it too funnily – and straight actors just came across as lunatics. However, after our first trailer played at Comic-Con [and people got excited by the film], we got Bradley Cooper. He made perfect sense – he’s spanned both drama and comedy, so he was a perfect fit. He nailed it immediately.“

Keeping it real

“I like to blend computer and practical effects, so that people aren’t sure which is which. Dave [Bautista, playing vengeance-seeking hardman Drax] had five to seven hours of make-up each day, when we could have done him with computers. It was hard – he had to have his arms outstretched for that entire time and, over the day, his make-up appliances would become filled with his sweat, because there was no place for it to go, and they would become all bubbly. At the end of the day he’d take it off and squeeze out all this disgusting sweat.”

The tunes

“For a space fantasy movie, we have a lot of music from Earth. The idea is that Chris Pratt’s character’s Walkman came with him from Earth, and he has all these Seventies and Eighties songs on there. We were so lucky to get all the songs we did – almost all the songs I put in the script were the ones we used. My favourite album is David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, so getting Moonage Daydream in was a huge pleasure. I love the juxtaposition of being in space, but with pop music from Earth. I don’t think that’s been done before.”

Remembering the roots

“I started out working for [legendary exploitation studio] Troma. I learned everything about filmmaking there. The foremost thing is perseverance and not giving up. A movie like this, it’s about not being OK with something – you have to make it as good as it can be. Everybody wants you to settle for the first take, but I just won’t. When you get used to working 24 hours non-stop – I remember shooting a scene in a tattoo parlour years ago where it was so hot people were passing out, and it was just me and the director left standing – you’re not inclined to back down just for an easy life.”

Guardians Of The Galaxy is at cinemas nationwide from 31 July

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