It's still hard to believe that Guardians of the Galaxy - long seen as the riskiest, most outlandish property Marvel had attempted to make mainstream - has proven to be one of the studio's most successful, with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 announced before the film was even released. With the doors to Marvel's Cosmic Universe now thrown wide open, writer/director James Gunn has promised that he knows exactly where the larger story is headed - and more importantly, where it's not.
Having confirmed which supporting characters will return for the sequel, and explained that his initial concept for Guardians was on the scale of an entire universe, not a single story, Gunn has been far from secretive (which fans have come to expect from comic book blockbusters). Now, the writer/director is promising that changes are, indeed, on the way for the sequel; regardless of how well they may be received by the fans.
In an interview with CBR, Gunn reiterated his surprise at just how well-received all aspects of Guardians proved to be - and how that will play a role in the direction (and likely, the risks) that the sequel will take:
"I think my biggest surprise was just how much they latched on to nearly everything. My surprise was how much they liked the humor in the movie. How much they liked the visuals. How much they got the visuals. How they saw what they were. How they were different from other movies that were coming out. There were a lot of things in the movie that people would probably enjoy, but I didn't know that people would get it in such a specific way, that they would understand the movie so incredibly well. That was a great joy for me seeing that. And it definitely influences me."
From a distance, there may not be all that much differentiating Guardians' tone or style from Marvel's other films (with some obvious exceptions). But with a talking raccoon and an action climax pairing aerial battles with a sentimental tree literally growing himself around the cast to protect them, Gunn's surprise that it all worked for most viewers is understandable.
But before fans start expecting to see the fan-favorite characters get a larger share of the spotlight - as would usually be the plan for a blockbuster sequel - Gunn warns that it was outside-the-box thinking that led to Guardians' success. For the sequel, that isn't likely to change - even if keeping those motivations intact is a trickier proposition:
"But then it's also about, who do I fall in love with? The truth is, before Guardians, I don't think very many people would have said, "Oh, the character that is going to be most people's favorite is Groot." I don't think anybody would have said that.
"There's a process of discovery, and I'm not sure the characters who were the favorites from the last movie are going to be the favorites in the next movie. It's really about listening to the audience, but then keeping myself as open to discovery as possible, because I think that there's a lot of things that have gone unexplored and characters that have gone unexplored."
Ask any Marvel fan what sides of the Cosmic Universe were alluded to, but left "unexplored" in Guardians and you're bound to get an earful (especially with films like Captain Marvel and Inhumans now confirmed as well). However, Gunn states that in developing and filming Guardians, he went to the trouble of fleshing out larger themes - like the Kree religion and culture, Xandar's darker side, and Peter Quill's father (and his relationship with the Ravagers) - that were only alluded to in the film itself.
Since Gunn has already conceived the larger story and fiction, there's no need to play up the mystery of Quill's father at all, using it instead to "serve the story." Given that, it seems the "unexplored" things Gunn intends on unravelling in the future are actually the characters themselves. And fans may not like everything they see:
"The Guardians are going to continuously change. I think that some of the characters are probably worse than what we think they are, and other characters are better than what we think they are. It's going to be interesting to learn a little bit about that as time goes on.
"Really, it's just about walking forward in an elegant manner. When you go forward with a group of characters... you're understanding these characters in a new way, you're developing a new kind of story about their lives and who they are and where they're going. And if you're doing that, if you're walking forward, then you can't just repeat what you did before. That's going backwards. That's not understanding the character."
Those comments may be received quite differently among even the most outspoken Guardians fans: for some, the chemistry of the team was strong enough by the film's end to make any changes seem like an unnecessary (or unwelcome) risk. For others, the film's initial premise of "a group of escaped convicts trying to save the galaxy" didn't quite deliver on the fact that Gamora, Drax, Quill, Groot and Rocket were all wanted criminals (or confessed murderers). If it's Gunn's intention to show that being charming or likeable doesn't simply erase the team's uglier tendencies, then we'd say he's earned the benefit of the doubt by now.
What do you think about Gunn's goal of surprising audiences with his cast's real nature? Has he earned himself a free pass to do as he pleases in your eyes, or do you think it's folly to ignore the audience's hopes for the next film(s)?
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 releases on May 5 2017.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Guardians of the Galaxy 2 as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.