Filmmaker James Gunn is known for his bleak and twisted sense of humor, which is why Marvel’s decision to hire him on as director for Guardians of the Galaxy is regarded as a bold move that could pay off handsomely – according to such people as Marvel Movie Universe architect and Avengers director Joss Whedon.
However, that hiring is not without risks, as Gunn’s previous approach to getting a laugh has been received by some as inconsistent and mean-spirited. One look at the love/hate reactions to Gunn’s scripts for the comic book superhero satires The Specials and Super - the latter of which he also directed – confirms as much.
The announcement that casting has begun for Guardians of the Galaxy was overshadowed this week, when such sites as The Mary Sue discovered comments that Gunn posted in an article breaking down the list of “50 Superheroes You Most Want To Have Sex With” (as voted for by people on Facebook, Twitter and Gunn’s personal website). Gunn’s ‘editorial insight’ has since been removed, but can still be read over at Change.org – which has started a petition to remove him as director on Guardians – but be warned, it is very NSFW and not for the easily-offended.
Here is Gunn’s response to the controversy (posted on his FB page):
A couple of years ago I wrote a blog that was meant to be satirical and funny. In rereading it over the past day I don’t think it’s funny. The attempted humor in the blog does not represent my actual feelings. However, I can see where statements were poorly worded and offensive to many. I’m sorry and regret making them at all.
People who are familiar with me as evidenced by my Facebook page and other mediums know that I’m an outspoken proponent for the rights of the gay and lesbian community, women and anyone who feels disenfranchised, and it kills me that some other outsider like myself, despite his or her gender or sexuality, might feel hurt or attacked by something I said. We’re all in the same camp, and I want to do my best to make this world a better place for all of us. I’m learning all the time. I promise to be more careful with my words in the future. And I will do my best to be funnier as well. Much love to all – James
Part of the issue here is that most people weren’t familiar with Gunn’s tendency to generate material that some find off-putting and unpleasant (though, anyone who’s either seen or is familiar with movies like Slither and Super could’ve told you as much). Hence, many were left with an unexpected, unpleasant, feeling after being exposed to Gunn’s material for the first time, having a response similar to others who’ve actually seen his previous films - like our own Rob Frappier, who mentioned in his review of Super that it “ignores story in favor of a nihilistic philosophy that is too far removed from my personal beliefs to be engaging.”
Dark Horse Comics Editor Rachel Edidin has issued her own response to the matter, addressing Gunn’s comments from the angle that they are indeed meant to be satirical:
If Gunn’s list is satire, it’s bad satire, because it skews incredibly close to material that’s not only already out there, but that comes from official media and in some cases industry professionals. There’s a significant slice of the comics community that is that misogynist and homophobic, and says so loudly and frequently. It’s telling, I think, that so many people took what Gunn wrote at face value: this is material we’ve seen before, again and again, presented seriously.
An over-the-top parody of misogyny falls pretty flat when you’re doing it in a context where a lot of the people in positions of relative power and visibility, as well as significant vocal blocs, are actually that misogynist.
And when you lampoon something that prevalent and that extreme, it’s awfully easy to go in with good intentions and end up with results that actually reinforce what you were trying to subvert.
Edidin raises some of the same criticisms here as those that’ve been brought up in regard to Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass comic book – namely, that it inadvertently ends up celebrating certain unpleasant aspects of pop culture, which it originally meant to satirize. Of course, there are also many people out there who feel the opposite to be true with Kick-Ass and defend it accordingly, calling attention to the importance of interpretation – and why context can make all the difference in the world (which brings us back to Gunn’s comments).
So, here’s the million-dollar question: How much (if at all) does any of this reflect on Marvel’s decision to have James Gunn direct Guardians of the Galaxy? Let us know in the comments section.