Tag Archives: Kevin Feige

Young Gunn: how I “discovered” the director of Guardians of the Galaxy

7 Aug
Director/writer James Gunn on set of Guardians of the Galaxy

Director/writer James Gunn, now 44, on set of Guardians of the Galaxy

Giving a $150 million movie such as Guardians of the Galaxy to a relatively unknown writer/director was a huge gamble, as I wrote here. James Gunn is a graduate of the Troma school of schlock (see here for my meeting last year with Troma head Lloyd Kaufman), and his chief writing credits previously were on Scooby-Doo. But I’d like to think Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, somehow read my review in The Times a decade ago.

Scooby-Doo 2 did not find favour with most mainstream critics in 2004. It languishes in the IMDB with a pitiful 4.9 rating. But to me, James Gunn’s script fizzed with energy. Here’s an extract from my Times review:

“On the way, something unexpected happens. The film acquires a life beyond the formula. ‘Oh no!’ cries Shaggy, as the monsters begin taking over the town. ‘They’re turning Coolsville into Ghoulsville!’ And, excusing himself from Velma’s potentially criminal boyfriend: ‘We’ve got to make like your personality — and split!’

“In fact, the film is almost too good, piling sensation on to sensation and chase on to chase, until the overall effect is deadening. But all credit to James Gunn, a young veteran of the low-budget Troma studio who also wrote the fine Dawn of the Dead remake, for creating that rare beast — a sequel that improves upon the original. And all credit to the audience for demanding better. Because they might have just remade it, too, if it weren’t for those pesky kids.”

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel rolls the dice, and…

7 Aug

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Poster-Art1

Playing poker, like making films, is all about taking calculated risks. Last night I called a £200 re-raise with just a pair, to someone who was representing a straight, because I sensed he might be bluffing. I was right, and doubled up.

Hollywood seems to know all about the calculation, but has forgotten about the risk. This summer’s blockbusters are, yet again, all franchise sequels (22 Jump Street, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Expendables 3) or properties with existing brand recognition (Hercules). So when a new film by a relatively untried but hugely talented director (James Gunn) gets a mammoth budget, forgive us jaded viewers if we go a bit ga-ga.

Guardians of the Galaxy, currently scoring 8.8 on IMDB, is every bit as fun as people say it is: brash, colourful, irreverent, risky, and both incredibly smart and incredibly dumb at the same time. As a tiny example, Stan Lee gets a Hitchcockian cameo in every Marvel movie. Usually it’s something pretty innocuous, but here the revered 91-year-old founder of Marvel is shown talking to a pretty girl young enough to be his great-granddaughter, at which a wise-cracking alien raccoon comments: “What a Class-A Pre-vert.” Or this: the climactic battle scene turns on a moving plea from the roguish leader of the Guardians: “I am an A-hole but I’m not 100% a dick.” If Shakespeare were alive today – and smoking a lot of dope – he could surely do no better.

Yes, there are spectacular action scenes and spaceships and explosions and aliens and strange new worlds. But it’s the left-field dialogue and characters that really sing. The closest comparison might be Avengers Assemble, also brilliantly scripted. But that was based on established, well known superheroes who had already been set up over the course of multiple movies. Guardians was not a comic many people read or knew about; the film seems to have come out of nowhere.

All credit, then, to Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios. In 2008, I interviewed Feige for The Times on the eve of the biggest gamble of his career. Instead of licensing their comics to studios who barely understood them in return for a fee, he reckoned Marvel could do better. So he bet the company’s future on a $550 million loan to fund an initial three movies. It worked. The first, Iron Man, took over half a billion dollars worldwide; Avengers Assemble, which in 2012 brought all their different superhero movies together, made over $1.5 billion.

With figures like these, it would be tempting to stick with a sure thing. But Feige rolled the dice once again, pitting the full might of Marvel behind a much quirkier, edgier, cultish sort of film. It’s paid off in spades: Guardians of the Galaxy had by far the biggest August opening in Hollywood history, taking $172 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

So c’mon, execs. Lighten up a little. Take some risks. Give us something fresh. And who knows? You might just get another franchise to milk out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is already slated for summer 2017.

See also: how I “discovered” the young James Gunn

Batman vs The Avengers

22 Dec

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Superheroes are currently locked in an epic struggle between the forces of darkness and the emissaries of light. I don’t mean good vs evil – I mean dark, depressing and dystopian, vs. primary-coloured escapist fantasy.

It was hard to imagine any superhero film topping Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, which felt like the films we’d been waiting for ever since Frank Miller’s graphic novel appeared in 1986, and the last two of which made just over a billion dollars each. Then along came Marvel Avengers Assemble, with a staggering $1.5 billion ker-ching.

The reason for this blog? On the ferry to France, Batman and Avengers were playing simultaneously in the two on-board cinemas. I’d seen both before, natch. Which to choose for a second viewing? The culmination of a lifetime’s near-obsession, begun as a toddler, continuing with interviewing Adam West (http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/west/) and then writing the first cover feature on the Tim Burton Batman? Or else the four-colour joys of Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble?

Slightly to my own surprise, Whedon won hands-down. To me, it’s an object lesson in screen-writing. It’s phenomenally hard to write a genuine ensemble piece which is generous to each character, but he pulls it off. We start with the Black Widow, tied to a chair and interrogated by sinister Russians. Then the penny drops for us, as well as the men, that she is interrogating them. The fight scene that follows, thrillingly choreographed as it is, is secondary to the message that this is a character with brains, as well as beauty and brawn. And that’s not all. Whedon piggy-backs on this scene to build up the next character: Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. That this fearlessly able woman is patently panicked at the thought of meeting him gives us a terrific feeling of anticipation before Mark Ruffalo even steps on screen.

And so it goes on, the dialogue fizzing like Aaron Sorkin in a cape.  Even Pepper Potts, in her brief time on screen, is given zingers that show she’s more than a match for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. The Hulk has two bits of laugh-out-loud visual slapstick. As for Captain America, Whedon makes even his boringness interesting: “These guys are basically Gods,” he is warned of Loki and Thor. He replies: “There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”

And a special prize for sneaking the insult “You whingeing c**t” into a 12A movie – which is basically how Loki’s Shakespearean insult “mewling quim” translates. At Time Out, our Marketing Director once snuck the words “f***ing hell” past the censors in a radio ad for the magazine, when Victor Lewis-Smith spoke of the “four quenelles” in a restaurant. Call me immature, but this gives me a similar kick.

What’s all the more remarkable is that this was planned so long ago. Five years ago I interviewed Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios (see full interview at http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/marvel/). Tired of franchising his best characters to studios who kept messing them up, or perhaps worse, succeeding with them (like Spiderman) and pocketing most of the profits, he staked the company on a $550 million loan to produce the blockbusters themselves. Avengers Assemble is the final pay-off for a bunch of movies, successful in their own right, that were effectively glorified marketing campaigns for this team-up.

So you can keep your dystopia. Even Alan Moore is bored of the angst-ridden heroes he helped create, as he told me in several interviews, and returned to the old-school fun of his boyhood in his series 1963. As for Superman being Nolanised next summer – the new trailer does look great, but I’m not sure I want a gloomy, introspective Man of Steel, all tarnished and bent out of shape.

…What do you think? Comments please!