Marvel’s strangest film so far, ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy,’ makes a strong Hall H debut

SAN DIEGO – I was here for the first-time presentations that Marvel made for both “Thor” and “Captain America,” and I thought they were both very confident panels that did a good job of conveying (A) the casting and (B) the general tone of each of the movies. They were good. Solid. Did the trick.

Today’s presentation for “Guardians Of The Galaxy” was easily better than both of those combined. I am going out on a limb here, but I think this looks like one of the most genuinely fun things Marvel has ever made. I find something about the entire notion of Marvel just suddenly doing space fantasy ballsy and weird in the first place, but this particular property, done this particular way, by this particular filmmaker? That’s just insane. It’s an insane proposition on paper. I have no doubt there are execs at other studios just waiting to see this one stumble, and I also have no doubt those same people are going to be dumbfounded when they see what it actually is.

As the cast of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” made their way backstage, Chris Hardwick stood waiting, and finally welcomed Kevin Feige back to the stage. He talked about how cool the first two presentations looked, but asked Kevin if there was any way he could talk about something new.

Kevin looked out at the crowd, deadpan. “Well… do you like new things?”

I swear to God, Feige is like Pavlov ringing the dinner bell at this point. He and his team know the Hall H crowd better than they know their own families. They play them. Marvel is the Globetrotters, and every fanboy in that room is the Washington Generals. That’s just how it is now.

Once he had the crowd warmed up, Kevin told us that they were 14 days into shooting the film, which is really just barely started. “They very much wanted to come here to say hi to you.” Long pause. “So they came here to say hi to you.”

James Gunn came out to introduce his cast, and I gotta say… this is one motley crew. I love it. Visually, they are something else, even without the make-up that they’ll all wear in the film. Michael Rooker’s sporting a Travis Bickle right now, a wee little mohawk, so he can play Yondu. My favorite “Dr. Who” companion ever, Amy Pond, seems to be going by a new name now. “Karen Gillan”. Sounds totally phony. Anyway, she’s playing Nebula. Djimon Hounsou is Korath, and Lee Pace is Ronan The Accuser. Benicio Del Toro will be The Collector with Zoe Saldana playing Gamora. The most remarkable sight of the entire panel had to be Dave Bautista making his entrance. He’s Drax the Destroyer in the film. And finally, Chris Pratt as Star Lord, the center of this very warped corner of the galaxy.

I think it’s outstanding that Gunn’s sense of humor is all over the footage we saw. He’s put together a very eccentric cast. One by one, those names are all interesting for different reasons, but you put them together, throw a little John C. Reilly in on top, add an animated raccoon and a large mute sentient tree, and you’ve got the weirdest goddamn mainstream movie possible. The only way to play it is to steer right into the absurdity of it.

Gunn talked about how he hasn’t really had to adapt his shooting style for the film, since he’s always been a meticulous planner. The scale may be different, but he seems to be making the film he wants to make. I think what Marvel is pretty good at by now is deciding if they like the film someone’s describing, and then if they decide to make it, they back that film as hard as they can. They really do seem to put a lot of trust in the people making these. This is not tiny little indie experiment that Gunn’s making. It’s a big-budget outer space action comedy with effects and all sorts of stars, and it’s not something that most people already know. This is as close as Marvel gets to creating an all-new IP for film. There is no real precedent that you can point at for this.

Hardwick asked Pratt if the recent photos that appeared online of him in fairly remarkable shape had anything to do with him getting the role in the film. “Nope,” Pratt replied. “Really weird timing. I just happened to get a tapeworm.” Pratt’s a natural for panels like this. He will have fun riffing and teasing if you give him any set-up at all. “Actually, I got this role six months ago, and when I got it, they said ‘Yeah, that was really good, but you’re too fat.’ And I said, ‘Well, I can work on that.’ So I got the part and then they gave me a personal trainer.”

They all seemed careful in terms of how much plot they were willing to discuss, but Pratt described the character as “a jerk. Star Lord lives in outer space, and he had a tough time as a kid, and now he just flies around outer space, making out with hot alien girls and being a sort of a rogue. Through teaming up with these guys, though, he finds a higher purpose, something to care about and fight for and something worth putting his life on the line.”

Saldana is pretty much cornering the market on outer-space female leads right now, which she acknowledged when she said, “I’ve been blue, so why not try green?” She said that when she described the character to her 11-year-old niece, she tried calling her “a fierce warrior.” Her niece corrected her, though. “No. She’s an assassin.” Saldana seemed pleased to be playing an assassin from space, but her enthusiasm was nothing compared to Dave Bautista.

I interviewed him earlier this year, and it was the wrong day. Just one of those things. I wasn’t on my game, and we didn’t have a ton to talk about regarding “The Man With The Iron Fists.” What I saw today, though, was an actor who knows that people perceive him a certain way because of how he looks and where he came from, a guy who finally has hold of a role he feels like he could turn into something special, and he understands that you don’t get many of these moments. Bautista was very frank when talking about how much he wanted the role, and Feige admitted that they really put him through his paces. “We made him audition seven times,” Feige said. Bautista said that when he found out he got the part, he cried “like a little baby.” He seemed thankful for the moment, and very genuine. Gunn told us that Bautista is terrifying in the role, and I am curious to check it out now.

Lee Pace played it close to the vest regarding Ronan The Accuser. “He’s a very complicated Kree,” he said. He told the crowd he didn’t really want to describe the character. “We’re going to put it on the screen,” he said.

In another fairly blunt moment, Djimon Hounsou said that he really, really wanted the part of Drax The Destroyer, and said that as soon as he saw Bautista for the first time in London, he knew immediately why they picked him instead. He said he was happy to be playing Korath instead, “a great ally to Ronan and Thanos.”

Ahhhhh. That’s right. Several people dropped that name today. Thanos, who you’ll remember is the guy we see turning around in the last few moments of “The Avengers,” is somewhere way out there in deep space on the far side of a wormhole. And it sounds like we’re going to see a story set in that part of space specifically, which starts to tie this series in to the larger Marvel universe.

By far, my favorite moment of the panel was when they finally got to Karen Gillan. When I say she’s my favorite companion for “Dr. Who,” it’s not because she’s cute. It’s because I think the role they wrote for her was fascinating, with one of the great introductory arcs in the show’s history, and Gillan sold it. She made Amy Pond into this bruised, vulnerable girl who became exactly what the Doctor needs at a moment when he really, really needs it. She got to build a very complex and sad and sweet character over a few seasons, and I think she got better as the show went. I’m thrilled to see her introduced into the Marvel universe, and Hardwick asked her a specific question about Nebula. “Isn’t she bald in the comics?”

Gillan smiled, and immediately, as soon as I really looked at her hair, it was evident what was coming. I didn’t really register it before, but it was a blatant wig. “Well,” she said as she reached up, “I might have done something.”

She slipped the wig off, revealing her freshly shaved head. She has just a wee bit of scalp fuzz right now, but she’s bald. And it’s great. Not everyone has the right skull to do that. I’ve seen some people shave their heads and it’s an immediate regret. Gillan looked great, and she seemed amazed by it still. She made a show of throwing her wig into the crowd, and then immediately realized she shouldn’t have done that. “Oh, wait, I need that! I have to get that back!” she said, and it took a moment, leading to Hardwick shuddering at the thought of that wig getting into the wrong hands.

Benicio Del Toro said he hasn’t started shooting yet, so he was just meeting the rest of the cast here at Comic-Con. He talked about really liking the script when he read it and having a great phone call with Gunn about it.

And then finally, it was time to show the footage, and if this is what they have after 14 days of shooting, I’m blown away. There were finished effects in what we saw. It was a couple of pretty solid sequences. And the sense of humor, the timing and the energy… all evident, even in something this rough.

The footage opens with Star Lord (Pratt) on an alien planet. He finds some sort of ancient temple and enters it, looking for something specific. He finds a strange spherical thing on a stand and picks it up. As it comes to life, blue light pouring from it, a group of armed men enter the cave behind Star Lord. Korath (Hounsou) steps forward, gun up, and orders Star Lord to drop it. Pratt’s more than happy to do so, not wanting to get shot.

“Who are you?” Korath asks.

I love how Pratt oversells it when he answers, “Star Lord.”


The whole next scene shows Star Lord being processed as part of a line-up of some sort, and it’s an excuse to introduce all of the Guardians in costume and in make-up and right away, it’s just visually awesome. So much fun to look at. Such cool designs. It’s John C. Reilly reading off the files on each of them, with Peter Serafinowicz playing off of him, and they’ve got a great rhythm going back and forth.

So we see Gamora, and it’s a wild look for Saldana. Dave Bautista’s Drax is mammoth and savage-looking. Groot, who appears to be completely CGI, is so tall that he has to lean in to look out at Rhomann Dey (Reilly). Reilly calls him “house-plant-slash-muscle,” and I’m dying to see what a fight with Groot looks like.

And then the moment that I think is going to be a lightning bolt for pop culture. The introduction of Rocket Raccoon. Laugh if you want to, but that little sonofabitch is going to be the biggest thing next summer. They have to get the voice right, and I’ve heard all sorts of wild stories about the search for that voice so far. I’m shocked they didn’t announce it today, but I guess that gives me a reason to go to D23 in a couple of weeks. They mention that his arrest record includes over 90 counts of vehicle theft. He just sits there and bristles at them, then sneezes, and it’s effortless animation. He just looks like a pissed off little sentient raccoon.

The last one they name is Chris Pratt, and as they talk about Star Lord, he acts like he’s turning an invisible crank, gradually extending his middle finger to them. When he finishes, he looks surprised by it and apologizes to them. “Oh, sorry, I don’t really know how this machine works.”

Reilly shakes his head, unimpressed. “They call themselves the Guardians Of The Galaxy.”

Serafinowicz shakes his head, equally underwhelmed. “What a bunch of a-holes.”

The rest of the reel was quick imagery, all cut to the song “Hooked On A Feeling.” If you don’t know it, it’s one gloriously strange choice. We see vehicles and planetscapes and aliens galore, and there was one shot of Rocket Raccoon mid-attack that is so preposterously cool, filled with such attitude, that it is unfair. You can’t show me a taste of something that crazy and not follow up with the main course. I want to see this movie more than either of the sequels at today’s Marvel panel.

Sure… they might have shown us every cool thing today. The rest of the movie might not work. Anything can happen. But feeling this sort of excitement and optimism about something in production is why I do this in the first place. I love it when I see something that hooks me and it feels like something really wonderful and weird is going on. I hope this gamble turns out to be a good one for Marvel in the long run, because it felt like a home run today.

Want to see the just-released new piece of concept art for the film?

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is in theaters August 1, 2014. That means we could see them at Comic-Con again next year. That would be awesome.