Back in 2014, Marvel launched an action movie with a difference. It had superheroes – kind of. It had a banging soundtrack – David Bowie, Blue Swede and the Jackson 5 included – and it was set in outer space.
Now, almost a decade later, fans are finally getting ready to say goodbye to the Guardians of the Galaxy, ahead of the third and final film’s premiere. It’s been a wild ride, but even from the start, director James Gunn knew he was onto something special.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Gunn says, speaking at a recent press conference. “I had hopes. I felt really good about it from the beginning. I felt like we were doing something different. I felt like the world needed a space fantasy that was different from ones we had seen before.”
One of those key differences: the film rarely, if ever, featured the Avengers, the bread-and-butter superheroes that Marvel built their empire on.
“Guardians really was the first movie that was completely outside of the realm. It tied in with Thanos and Infinity Stones,” Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios’ president, says.
"But The Avengers were not in it. And we weren’t setting up Tony Stark’s next adventure, or Captain America. And it was really our attempt of saying, we don’t wanna just do superhero movies… we wanted to do a big space movie.”
Returning for one last time as the Guardians are all of the usual suspects: Dave Bautista’s Drax; Bradley Cooper’s Rocket the Raccoon; Karen Gillan’s Nebula and Groot, the sentient tree-person voiced by Vin Diesel.
Of course, there’s also Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, aka Starlord, who begins the film dealing with some rather heavy character growth – and as Pratt implies, it’s about time too. “He has been lost. In the beginning, he was running away from the death of his mother, but he got to pretend to be this character based on these pop culture icons of his childhood of the late Eighties,” he says.
“He’s a guy who’s constantly been searching for who he is. And then he found it again in his relationship with Gamora. And so, when that’s stripped away from him, he’s a guy who’s realising that all of these various people that he’s found that are Quill, none of them have been the real him.”
Change is very much the buzzword for this last adaptation – while Pom Klementieff describes her character Mantis as “more used to being around other people. So she’s less doing, like, weird stuff” – Karen Gillan’s Nebula is also having to find her place in a world where Gamora is no longer her sister. Though Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) does feature, this version of the character has been ripped from a different timeline and wants nothing to do with the Guardians.
“Post-Thanos being eliminated from her life, [Nebula is] starting to flourish a little bit more and she’s starting to have a lighter personality and she’s a little more willing to show vulnerability,” Gillan says.
However, no good superhero film is complete without a villain, and this time around, the Guardians will be facing a new baddie in the form of Chukwudi Iwuji’s The High Evolutionary – whom the actor describes as a “villain with a god complex.”
For Iwuji, finding his way into the character was all about the music. “I knew classical music was gonna be a big part of this character,” he says. “[He’s] obsessed with it, listening to this music. He needs the music as he wanders through his castle at night. And I thought very deeply about Henry IV. He has a great speech about, ‘Heavy is the head that wears the crown. How many thousands of my poorest subjects that at this moment, are asleep.’”
And of course, Guardians wouldn’t be Guardians without its iconic soundtrack, which features smash hits from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. As Gunn says, including them in his films “changed the lives of some of these artists who now have big hit songs. And so, I know that when I’m choosing a song, it’s going to be something that a lot of people listen to.
“When I’m writing, I put the music in along with the script. I write it in… some things on this, it was very difficult choosing the music for this movie because in the first two movies, they were basically all Seventies pop hits.”
By now, however, Peter Quill has upgraded his Walkman to an iPod – as Gunn says, this presented its own difficulties. “I could choose from anything. It’s like at the end of Hurt Locker, with him looking at all the stuff on the shelves. And not knowing how to make this choice.”
But with the end of the series of the horizon, Gunn is philosophical about the impact the films have had on his life.
“My main memories are not going to the premieres,” he says. “It’s being on set and having the little moments. It’s doing bits with Chris in between sets. It’s talking to Sean. Watching Chuk turn in an amazing performance. Goofing around with Pom, wondering what the hell she’s talking about.”
Given the Guardians’ focus on family, jokes and heartfelt performances, there’s no better way to remember them by. And it might not be the end. “I’m gonna see all these people again,” Gunn says. “They’re all friends of mine.”
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 is out in cinemas now