Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are often accused of displaying a “sameness” that makes for a familiar and sometimes bland feel across titles, and while I’d argue in defense of roughly a third of them there’s still some truth to the matter. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films are among the handful that break free of that mold, and while it’s attributable in part to the intergalactic setting much of it stems from Gunn’s personality too. He’s a fun, knowledgeable filmmaker, and that translates to interviews and commentaries too. His latest is new to Blu-ray/DVD/4K Ultra this week.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for…
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Commentator: James Gunn (writer/director)
1. He recorded the commentary just a few days after the film opened saying he’s spent the last three years working on it.
2. The first film features the Marvel logo after the opening flashback, “but the logo’s gotten much longer since then so it was a little strange when we tried that this time.”
3. The opening scene was filmed in Charles, Missouri, “right near where I grew up.”
4. “The most obscure Easter egg of all time” is the license plate on Ego’s (Kurt Russell) Ford Mustang Cobra being the same as the one on Gunn’s high-school car, a Buick Electra.
5. Lola is the company responsible for de-aging Russell’s face. Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) was de-aged slightly too.
6. Vol. 2 takes place in 2014, just two months after the end of the first film.
7. Groot (Vin Diesel) was originally going to be full-size again, but he felt that was repetitive and decided to keep him tiny instead.
8. He was the motion-reference for Baby Groot’s opening dance sequence, “so somewhere in a secret vault there is me doing all of these dance moves.”
9. The “matter splatter” in the background of the opening — the colorful splashes against dark, violent action — is inspired by his work on the video-game Lollipop Chainsaw.
10. He apparently caught flack, probably light-hearted, that his commentary on the first film saw him pointing out his numerous friends working in and on the film. “I got some criticism because everybody is my friend,” he says, adding that the follow-up is more of the same. He likes working with people he likes.
11. Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) slide down the front of the beast was a stunt done by Saldana herself.
12. After writing the script Gunn goes through and creates “a color story” using color swatches to give each scene its own color pattern. It’s used by the production designer and costume designer for their respective departments.
13. He auditioned hundreds of actors for the role of Mantis (Pom Klementieff) but only two for Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki).
14. The song “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah was only a regional hit back in the early 70s, mostly the St. Louis and Chicago area, so Gunn loved exposing it to a much wider audience in the film and soundtrack.
15. He recalls a backstage moment with Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista at a big event celebrating the release of the first film and says the trio promised each other that they’d keep integrity and relationships a priority. They knew it would be big, and it launched all three into a higher stratosphere than they’d previously enjoyed, so they wanted to ensure they’d remain down to earth “and not [let] ego destroy us and instead [destroy] our own ego.” It’s almost as if they knew.
16. Without naming names, he says of the first film that he regrets some “performance moments in there that I didn’t think were as good as they could have been.” He takes full blame for the faults though saying he didn’t take the time to get the performances he wanted. That changed on the sequel as he made an effort to push his cast and take more time to get the movie right.
17. Regarding the three little bird-like creatures on the branch after the ship crashes into the forest, he says he gave them a name… but then forgot what it was. “I think we’re gonna see more of them in the future. I like those little dudes.”
18. Sean Gunn plays Kraglin, but he also performs the on-set motions for Rocket (who is voiced by Bradley Cooper, who is not mentioned by Gunn once throughout the entire commentary).
Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy..Director James Gunn on set with actor Sean Gunn (Rocket Racoon performance capture)..Ph: Jay Maidment..©Marvel 2014
19. The woman enjoying a drink with Howard the Duck is played by Molly Quinn (Castle). Her real-life boyfriend, Elan Gale, was introduced to her by Gunn and appears as one of Stakar Ogord’s (Sylvester Stallone) henchmen. So many friends.
20. There’s very little improvisation in the film. “When you start to get too improvy you start to do things that people find very funny on set and then are not as funny as what was originally written which took years to write and put into place.” He says there are exceptions, but for the most part his films are “tightly scripted.”
21. He’s been lucky in that every song he’s ever requested for these films has been cleared without issue. No one says no to the Mouse House.
22. He has “a list of about 500 songs that I think of as Meredith Quill songs, songs she would really love.” He keeps the list on his computer and references it while writing the treatment and script. When he passes the story treatment on to the Marvel folks he includes a CD of the relevant tracks.
23. The cast and crew sometimes wear earbuds during scenes so they can hear the songs/score that will be used over a particular shot.
24. Glen Campbell’s “Southern Nights” was one of his favorite songs as a child, and he recalls the joy of attending a 4th of July party a couple years ago “at Jane Seymour’s house of all places” where he got to meet Campbell and listen to some live music from the man.
25. Gunn’s best friend in the world is Stephen Blackehart, and in addition to playing two different roles in the Guardians films he also played a character named Quill in Super.
26. It was a controversial decision in the editing room whether or not to keep the moment where Nebula (Karen Gillan) bites into and immediately spits out the yarrow root. Others questioned whether the scene should end on a laugh, and Gunn argued (correctly) in favor of keeping it.
27. They went through multiple iterations of Ego’s biographical “stations of the cross” including a “moving oil painting” and a “shifting sand sculpture.”
28. One of Gunn’s favorite moments in the film occurs at 46:22 when Drax (Bautista) takes a quick glance at Ego’s penis.
29. The young, purple-skinned girl statue in one of the stations is modeled after Gunn’s niece, Grace.