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The MCU's first bomb? Marvel's Z-team? James Gunn and Chris Pratt on how 'Guardians of the Galaxy' proved all the haters wrong.

As the hugely popular series comes to a close with "Vol. 3," the director and star reflect on how naysayers predicted doom for the first film.

James Gunn, Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Will Poulter, Chukwudi Iwuji (Getty Images)
James Gunn, Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Will Poulter and Chukwudi Iwuji. (Photo: Getty Images)

A new review of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 recounts how its motley crew of superheroes were generally discounted when it was first announced they’d be leading a movie in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. After Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and other Avenger friends, Marvel was thought to be rolling out its B-team, notes Variety’s Peter Debruge.

Writer-director James Gunn and star Chris Pratt insist it was far worse than that, though.

“I feel like anybody that called us Marvel's B-team was giving us a compliment because I saw [us called] mostly ‘Z Grade heroes,’” Gunn tells us. “[They said], ‘This movie's gonna bomb, no one wants to see these guys.’ That was just all over my [social media] feed after the movie was announced.”

Gunn says Pratt even made a speech on the last day of filming where “he had looked up all these old terrible reviews talking about how we were gonna be Marvel's first bomb, and started reading 'em off about how bad the movie was gonna be and how nobody was gonna see it. And here we are now on the third one in, [and also with] a Christmas special, in two Avengers movies and a Thor movie.”

Indeed, the comedic-leaning Guardians has become a powerhouse franchise for Disney/Marvel. Its first two volumes grossed well over $1.5 billion combined worldwide, and as Gunn mentioned, also led to a Disney+ holiday special, while Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt) and his band of superhero misfits became key components of two Avengers event movies and 2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder.

“It really does speak to the nature of outside-in thinking when industry and art meet,” says Pratt, who was rejected for roles in Captain America and Thor and was close to swearing off Marvel movies before he finally landed Guardians. “Folks tend to believe that the reach of a title is the recipe for its success, but it's not. [It’s] the filmmaker, the idea, the creativity, and sometimes being unbridled by previous iterations of a film actually give you freedom to do something original, something different, and then you become the thing that other people are trying to touch…. But it could have been anything. If you give it to James, it's gonna be successful.” (Gunn has had so much success the past decade with both Marvel and DC movies that he was recently named co-chairperson of the latter.)

“I remember when I watched Vol. 1, I just fell in love with the characters,” says Pom Klemntieff, who joined the Guardians in Vol. 2 as Mantis. “I fell in love with the tone. I fell in love with James Gunn's vision… There was just something really unique to it.”

Unlike in 2014, it’s now a foregone conclusion that Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 will be a major hit. The threequel wraps up a trilogy, and things get more personal (and emotional) than ever for Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis and Groot (Vin Diesel) when the last member of their gnarly supergang, Rocket the Racoon (Bradley Cooper), lands on the brink of death.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, from left: Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Groot (voice: Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Karen Gillan as Nebula, 2023. © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Groot (voice: Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax and Karen Gillan as Nebula (Photo: © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The film also undoubtedly takes the biggest, weirdest and wildest swings of the series, from its expanding Star Wars-esque ensemble of colorful new creatures, bizarro new settings (the flesh-covered astral body Orgoscope and Counter-Earth, home of animal-heads on human-like bodies) and a Dr. Moreau-esque new villain (Chukwudi Iwuji).

“I think you need to get bolder,” Gunn says. “I see the three movies as being a trilogy, but they're also one story. And anybody knows that in the third act you have to heighten the stakes, it has to become more emotional, it has to become more active. It has to become harder… And so of course I knew that Vol. 3 was gonna be the most intense of the Guardians films.”

Iwuji, who previously worked with Gunn on The Peacemaker for HBO Max and DC, relished in his role as The High Evolutionary, the mad scientist who turned Rocket from a baby racoon into his anthropomorphic, upright walking and talking warrior.

“Certainly Dr. Moreau was an influence,” Iwuji says of the infamous character played by Marlon Brando in 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau. “Also anything Gary Oldman has done, [especially] Dracula. Alan Rickman. The lead sort of James Bond villain. They're all these classic archetypes that I could use, and whether I liked it or not, I was gonna use. Cause I've grown up watching them. So they were all dropped in there. But you could also see it in the script.”

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3, Will Poulter as Adam Warlock, 2023. ph: Jessica Miglio / © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
Will Poulter as Adam Warlock (Photo: Jessica Miglio / © Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection)

Another bold addition to the Guardians-verse in Vol. 3: the introduction of Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock, who begins as an adversary when his attack on Rocket (ordered by The High Evolutionary) throws our heroes’ world into chaos. (As Marvel fans know, however, Warlock does not remain a villain, and eventually joins the Guardians.)

Poulter (We’re the Millers, The Revenant) buffed up considerably for the role — and was literally painted gold.

“There’s an incredibly talented makeup team who did an unbelievable job,” Poulter says. “[There would be] multiple people painting me with rollers and brushes to get me gold. And the process between hair and makeup took just under two hours. So it was really quite, quite fast, actually, in the context of how these things can go. And it was really helpful in making me feel like Adam.”

So where will the Guardians go from here? With Gunn’s new post at DC, it’s clear he’s done pulling their strings for the foreseeable future.

“I hope they go somewhere,” he says. “Obviously we're never gonna see this team again. But I think that the Guardians going on in some other iteration would be amazing and I hope that it happens. And I hope that they get a talented filmmaker to come in and do it… I don't think they need to copy the formula that we've done. I think coming in with somebody's own take [on how] they see the Guardians in a completely different way would be amazing.”

“And to build and to defy expectations,” Pratt adds, “to go in a different direction would be fantastic.”

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 is now playing.

Watch the trailer: