Guardians of the Galaxy is a major departure for Marvel movies. The August 1 debut deals with more emotion and much more humor than previous Marvel films, and has only a single thread of continuity—yes, Thanos—tying it back to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The cast and crew gathered to discuss the flick at a press conference Saturday in Burbank, Calif.
Guardians is centered on Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt. Through outrageous circumstance, Star-Lord is thrown together with Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (the voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). The five Guardians are drawn into an epic, cosmic conflict with Kree zealot Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), while intergalactic bandit Yondu (Michael Rooker) waits to take sides.
The film is directed and co-written by James Gunn, who, for his part, was happy to helm a flick that didn’t take place at the dead center of the MCU.
“Frankly, I found it liberating,” Gunn said. “I would have had a harder time fitting into the ‘regular’ Marvel scheme of things.”
Part of what makes Guardians left-of-center for Marvel is the dual action/comedy and over-the-top performance of Chris Pratt in the lead role. Pratt is happy the role found him when he got a call to test for the character.
“At the time, I was in an identity crisis as an actor,” he said. “Was I a comedy guy? An action guy? Maybe I could be both.”
Gunn certainly thought Pratt could. “We screen-tested 20 people. Big stars, no-names, you name it,” he said. “We wanted someone to take it beyond the page, in the same way Robert Downey Jr. did in Iron Man. Within 20 seconds of seeing Chris, I knew. It was ‘Holy sh*t, that’s him. That’s the guy we’re looking for.’”
And Pratt found he enjoyed mixing action with comedy. “The whole process was one of trusting James, taking big swings and sometimes falling on your face, and getting over the embarrassment.”
Comedy comes in a heavy dose in Guardians of the Galaxy, largely delivered by Star-Lord and the wisecracking Rocket Raccoon. But Gunn went searching for deeper emotion as well. Star-Lord carries a Walkman cassette player—in space!—with him everywhere he goes, and listens to a constant ’70s soundtrack.
“It’s about a son’s relationship to his mother, and how that affects him through the rest of his life,” Gunn said. “The first thing I thought of was the Walkman and the cassette tape. That’s [Star-Lord’s] connection to Earth, home, and it’s the emotional center of the movie.”
Vin Diesel also found an emotional note in his performance, invoking the death of his friend and Fast and Furious co-star, Paul Walker.
“This was in December, and the first time I came back to dealing with human beings after dealing with death, so playing a character who celebrates life in the way Groot does was very nice,” he said.
Groot is effectively a walking, talking tree who says very little in the movie other than “I am Groot.” But the character somehow still shows emotion. Diesel was guided by a script that Gunn marked up for him with extensive notes.
“I don’t think anyone’s ever seen my script, but man…you should see my script,” Diesel said. “The left side might just say ‘I am Groot,’ but the right side would have a whole paragraph on what ‘I am Groot’ meant in that situation.”
—Guardians of the Galaxy hits theaters on August 1.