In the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy are perhaps the most eclectic and strange collection of characters. The core group includes a child of the 1980s taken from Earth years ago, a talking raccoon, a sentient tree alien, a former criminal who takes everything literally, and the adopted daughter of Thanos. The first film was all about these individuals from widely different backgrounds coming together and uniting for a common cause, grounding the sci-fi elements into something human and relatable. Guardians would not have been as big a hit if audiences did not care for the heroes, and each one stood out in their own special way, finding a soft spot in the hearts of viewers.

Besides being extremely entertaining, the characters spoke to moviegoers on a more personal and emotional level. Shortly after the original film’s release, Drax the Destroyer (who didn’t understand metaphors) became an inspiring icon for children suffering from autism. While Drax himself probably does not fall on the spectrum, he was still able to connect with those who do, which was obviously very touching for writer/director James Gunn. The filmmaker thrives on giving perceived outsiders a voice in mainstream movies, and that’s what drives him the most while making installments in the Guardians series.

Screen Rant visited the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 set and spoke with Gunn, who explained how the reaction to the first film impacted his writing process for the highly-anticipated sequel:

It really did. Not only Drax, but the characters in general. Groot. And I think outsiders as a whole reacted to the Guardians, which is what… Listen, that’s what I am. That’s what I feel like. But it’s being able to tell those stories for those people is what really the only reason I give a s**t about any of this, frankly. And the only reason I would ever put myself through this is to be able to bring people together, and make people feel like maybe they belong a little bit more than they would feel before they saw the movie.

Drax Petting Rocket Guardians of the Galaxy Bringing People Together Drives James Gunns Guardians of the Galaxy

At first glance, the Guardians are not exactly one’s vision of the ideal heroes, but that’s part of what makes the concept work so well. It’s fun to see criminals and outcasts come together to save the world, overcoming the obstacles life has thrown their way to prove they can be valuable contributors to society. As a self-described outsider, Gunn was able to tap into that element of the source material to tremendous success, since Guardians was one of the biggest hits of 2014. If viewers didn’t see parts of themselves in the team, then it’s unlikely the film would have grossed $773.3 million worldwide, a truly unprecedented figure for a film based on a very obscure comic book title. Marvel Studios deserves a lot of credit for rolling the dice and taking a chance on Gunn’s vision, a decision that paid off in spades.

Based on Gunn’s comments, it seems his biggest concern is telling a great story for the fans, which bodes well for Vol. 2. He hasn’t lost sight of what made the first film a phenomenon, and while things are going to be a tad different this time around, the followup will still maintain the lovable weirdness that’s become a franchise trademark. Drax may be coming around on the metaphor concept now (“Screw you, spaceship!”), but chances are he and his teammates will still be able to speak to everyone who has become a fan of these characters over the past few years. Family looks to be a running theme in the sequel, as Star-Lord tries to reconnect with his long lost father, so the potential is there for several emotional moments and subplots.

More: Every Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 Update You Need To Know

Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery 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.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is written and directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Tommy Flanagan, Laura Haddock, with Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell. Kevin Feige is producing, and Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Jonathan Schwartz, Nikolas Korda and Stan Lee are the executive producers.

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