What did we learn about James Gunn’s ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ at Comic-Con this year?

I’ve been talking to people about “Guardians Of The Galaxy” for the last week or so, some who were at Marvel’s Hall H presentation, many who were not, and I think at this point, it’s safe to call this the single biggest risk on Marvel’s calendar. I don’t think there’s much middle ground on this one. Either it wins people over and becomes a big hit, or it never gets past the initial impression that many people seem to have, which is, “There’s a raccoon who does WHAT?!”

About a week ago, I finally sat down and watched “Movie 43,” the anthology comedy film that has been vilified since its release at the start of the year. I think the film is dirty more than funny, intentionally trading shocks for laughs for the most part, but the segment that was directed by James Gunn is, in a very strange way, the single best audition tape that Gunn could have made for the “Guardians Of The Galaxy” job.

His segment, “Beezel,” stars a cartoon cat, and the most impressive thing about it is how he manages to avoid making it even vaguely cute. True, that’s the point of the segment, but it’s hard to create an animated character and give it personality and not have it tend towards the cute. Rocket Raccoon is a major part of the “Guardians” film, and I think the single deadliest thing they could do would be to make him cute. I thought it was fascinating that in the footage we saw, Rocket is glimpsed at one point in a police line-up, and he seems to be studiously ignoring everyone, sneezing at one point. There’s behavior and character there, but not a hint of cute, and the only other shot we saw had Groot, a giant tree being, spinning in a circle while Rocket hung onto his branches, firing his gun and snarling. Again… nothing cute about him, and I thought that was great.

When you see the way Gunn directs not only the live-action actors who are interacting with Beezel but the animated character itself, he seems like a guy who is going to avoid the worst traps that exist with a character like Rocket. When you watch the video I’ve embedded at the top of the story, it seems like his cast is coming together very well, but Gunn is well aware that no matter what else he does, if he gets Rocket wrong, it’s going to hobble the film, and he seems determined to keep that from happening.

I hope the film works. I think they made a strong showing at Comic-Con, and I love what they’re trying to do. I think the cast has come together really well, and Gunn seems like he’s ready to bring his sensibilities to a big-budget science-fiction playground.

“Guardians Of The Galaxy” is set for release August 1, 2014.