James Gunn On How ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2’ Was Influenced By ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ And ‘The Godfather: Part II’

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It’s fitting that James Gunn has announced he’ll be returning for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, because he pretty much is the cinematic version of those characters. Gunn’s tone and humor and direction have been why fans have responded so well to so far. (So much so that when I asked Gunn if he hated giving these characters up to the Russo brothers for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, he wasted little time answering in the affirmative.)

Gunn will join Sam Raimi and Christopher Nolan as the only three directors to complete a freestanding superhero trilogy and the first in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. (With Justice League, Zack Snyder will have directed three movies in the DC universe, but Justice League is a very different movie than Man of Steel.) At this point, it’s hard to imagine a Guardians movie not directed by the St. Louis native.

Ahead, Gunn talks about how he was influenced by both The Empire Strikes Back and The Godfather: Part II when making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Hey, if you’re going to list movies as an influence, shoot big). And he shares a special Easter egg that only residents of Missouri might appreciate. (Luckily, I grew up in Missouri, so I am one of these people.)

We are both from St. Louis.

I’ll try to give you an extra special interview then.

This movie starts in Missouri circa 1980. You even got the old rust-color license plates correct.

Here is the funniest thing – and the very first Easter egg in the movie – which is the most obscure Easter egg of all time: That license plate is my high school license plate number that I remembered from having to write it down at gas stations when I was a kid. So it’s kind of an Easter egg for me and my brother Patrick, because we’re the only two people that will ever know that.

Well, now I know it.

So now you know it, and everyone from Uproxx. Exclusive!

The exclusive: The old Missouri rust-color license plate was actually your number. That’s actually great.

That’s the worst clickbait of all time.

There’s an asteroid field scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With The Empire Strikes Back, I feel that takes some guts to put a scene like that in a movie.

Well, I think we needed to make it the quantum asteroid field, so it’s a little bit different. We have them popping in and out of space. It’s a little bit harder, you know? This is really the next-level asteroid field.

In the original Star Wars a lot of time is spent bringing this group of characters we love together, and then in Empire they split them up. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 does the same thing. Was that in your mind?

Well, I think The Empire Strikes Back was in my mind a lot as a model. Simply because, honestly, there’s not that many sequels that build strongly upon their predecessor. And to be able to create a sequel like The Empire Strikes Back, which is in my mind, better than the original movie…

I agree.

Honestly, there’s a time when I was a kid I didn’t think so. I thought the first one was better. But in rewatching them, I realized that The Empire Strikes Back is a stronger film. I think that those things were in my mind. Like, The Godfather: Part II was in my mind simply because it took the first movie, built upon it, and let the characters change and grow and didn’t just repeat itself. And I think that any sequel where they’re not just repeating the structure of the first movie was an inspiration. And I think that one of the main things about Vol. 2 – you know, a lot of these sequels, they just take the same story and the same character and somehow have the characters learn the same lessons they already learned.

I think that it’s important in these movies that these characters have changed. Gamora and Peter Quill are very different at the beginning of this movie than they were at the beginning of the last movie and they will continue to change and grow as the movies go on. And other characters, they change and they grow – but sometimes not always for the better, and I think we got to see that in this movie as well.

Peter is on this beautiful, almost Cloud City-esque planet. And there’s a hint of, what’s going on here? Do we trust this guy in charge that we’re here with?

And I think you find these relationships that you wouldn’t necessarily think were there. I mean, Rocket and Yondu barely interacted in the first movie and yet they’re one of the primary relationships in this movie. In fact, I might even argue that the primary relationship in Vol. 2 is between Rocket and Yondu – that that’s the biggest part of this film. So I think it’s moving these characters around in different ways and allowing them to meet other people and see who they really jive with.

I could make a case Yondu is the main character in this movie.

We said all along this is Yondu’s movie. It is really Yondu’s movie. Actually, I think this is a multi-protagonist film, which the first film wasn’t. The first film was told from the point of view of Peter Quill, primarily. This is truly a multi-protagonist film, because we definitely switch between who is the protagonist from scene to scene. And it switches between, basically, Gamora, Rocket, and Yondu, and Peter Quill. And I think that works better. It is a team movie – and to really tell a team story where every person has an equal voice. And even a character like Kraglin gets a beginning, a middle, and an end.

These movies are so much “you.” When you look at what the Russos going to do in Avengers: Infinity War, are you like, “Oh, don’t mess up my team, I’ve got a good thing going”?

Definitely. I’m like that. Yeah, I mean, it’s very important to me that the integrity of the Guardians remains during their supporting role in Infinity War. So, I’ve worked very closely with Kevin Feige and closely with the Russos – and especially I’ve worked closely with the actors so that they would remain true to themselves and that their stories would remain intact in the way that I want them to be for future movies.

[We will have more with James Gunn after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is released in theaters.]

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.