James Gunn Is The Best Thing To Come Out Of The MCU

Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 Marvel Studios

James Gunn has defined the visual personality of the cosmic side of the MCU and deserves more credit for shaping the current landscape of the franchise. Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel’s characters, story and heart set the bar for the rest of the MCU.

One of the inevitable consequences of maintaining a sense of quality and thematic uniformity with a franchise as expansive as the MCU is the loss of any sense of singularity. Thanks in large part to Marvel’s brilliant marketing strategy, we’re made to believe the individual releases that feed their continuity hype machine are somehow consistently breaking new ground when they are, in actuality, the product of scrupulous forethought. The assembly-line method, ensuring any given MCU release is at the very least “serviceable” also reinforces the sort of flat, unremarkable cinematography and narrative beats that has dogged their steps since Iron Man back in 2008. Having said all of that, and my disillusioned views on blockbusters and their adverse effect on the film industry as a whole notwithstanding, I will concede that this franchise has certainly earned the adulation that it so ubiquitously receives. A decade since its inception, all of its efforts have been good, but in my opinion only two of them have been great.

Gunn’s Guardians of The Galaxy and its sequel are exemplary exercises in adaptation and cohesive storytelling. For all of its irreverent humour and visual splendor, the Guardians films manage to feel the most accessible out of all the MCU releases. The characters are not only masterfully defined (an attribute the films share with the other films in their canon) but Gunn makes a point to see them progress to their logical conclusions. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Peter Quill’s sophomoric charm, which amounted to little more than a well of gags in the first film, was addressed as a serious character flaw in Vol 2. and even played a pivotal role in his ultimate arc.

The same was true for the rest of the cast, even if it made Vol 2. a somewhat odd sequel. Gunn made an active choice to evolve the main players from winsome fuckups to relatably damaged fuckups, even at the risk of scaring off dumb, mouth-breathing popcorn munchers. The result is a compelling sequel that avails the themes of its predecessor. Marvel seems to have a pretty good grasp on characters in general, though few feel as realised as the cosmic rogues introduced in the Guardians films. Their alienation from the ground-level shenanigans gives Gunn a little more liberty with storytelling and development. Both films, especially Vol 2., feel uncharacteristically personal and quant.

I wrote a piece earlier this year about the modern filmmaker’s role in an industry governed by a very specific kind of blockbuster. The expectation placed on these hungry auteurs is to produce a work that is both representative of their established artistry while also being congruent with the franchise-building behemoth. I cannot think of a more perfect example of this working than Gunn’s films. Guardians of The Galaxy and its sequel are unquestionably MCU films, but not a modicum of the director’s darkly humorous imprint is lost.

Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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