Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Ever since we last saw Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) find a second mixtape, we’ve been waiting what seems like a lifetime for writer-director James Gunn’s follow-up to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Praise Jeebus that time has finally arrived! The beloved bunch of a-holes are back, and better than ever in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, spotlighting that they can still manage to put the “fun” in dysfunctional.
In this next galactic adventure, Star-Lord/ Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are joined by Gamora’s rage-filled half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) on a quest to discover more about who the man claiming to be Peter’s father Ego (Kurt Russell) really is. In hot pursuit of the squad are Yondu (Michael Rooker), who’s also going through his own personal crisis, henchman Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and the rest of the Ravagers.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, we learned a few fun non-spoilery fact about the movie – and a smaller handful of very spoilery ones too. I’ve delineated between these so don’t worry.
19. James Gunn’s approach was NOT ‘more of the same,’ but how to ‘continue to grow.’ Speaking about how he wanted to handle the characters’ return, he candidly stated, “The thing I didn’t want to mess up was trying to be a rehash of the first movie. So many sequels are not good. The primary reason seemed to be that they kinda did the same the first movie did with a different template. Instead of doing that, we really wanted to let these characters grow and change. We want to watch them become new people and different people in every film.”
18. Ladies and gay men rejoice! Peter Quill’s shirtless scene is a little bit longer this time around. James Gunn joked that, “Kevin Feige has a rule. He gave me full creative freedom, except there must be Chris Pratt shirtless – the Beefcake clause.” Pratt said that he won’t take credit for the greatest shirtless scene in the film – that honor goes to Michael Rooker. “Be sure to pay attention where we see Yondu for the first time. It’s a series of wordless [images] that’s truly when this film transcends the genre. I’m not joking. Yondu is vulnerable and just had sex with these robot prostitutes. He never says a word, but you feel his pain. You know that he’s hurting and lonely. That pathos carries the arc through the entire movie. That’s way better than the guy who says, ‘I’m going to take this shirt off and sniff this armpit and put this one on.’” Gunn credits Pratt for the armpit sniff ad-lib, “You take the Marvel shirtless sexy scene right where you think it needs to be and he’s smelling the armpits of an old shirt to see if it’s okay to wear.”
17. Dave Bautista’s laugh is nothing like Drax’s laugh. He said, “I’m a very understated person and soft-spoken. James was very big on Drax being larger than life and projecting. He helps me create that character. The laugh we came about by complete accident. I was laughing and he said, ‘Can you do it louder?’ The louder I could hear him laughing. So he was doing it to amuse himself. It just kept getting bigger and bigger until I lost my voice.”
16. Sean Gunn has a bigger role playing both Kraglin and the on-set Rocket. Of juggling the two roles, he said, “When you act as both the input and the output, the input is the work you put into it on-set and the output is what you see on screen. For me the input is very similar for both characters. The output is totally different because it’s a whole different team of people to make Rocket. In this movie, Rocket and Kraglin have a few scenes together so juggling the two things was very strange and challenging. Ii just try to prepare the scene twice from two different mental points of view and we shoot around it as best we can. It’s a lot harder to do the Rocket stuff in the Kraglin uniform.”
15. Kurt Russell’s young self was achieved mostly through makeup tricks NOT CG! Yes, you read that right. Russell said, “I didn’t think about it too much because, yeah, they’ve got all the trickery in the world. Dennis Linder’s been my makeup man for 28 movies and before we went in there, because we assumed it was going to be all CGI, he said to James and the cinematographer, ‘Hey I can young this guy down. I’ve got some tricks in my bag. Would that be helpful?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, that would be great. As much as you can.’ I was speaking to the gal last night, who does the CGI. She said, ‘What’d you think of what we did?” I said, ‘I thought it was great but I understand you didn’t do a whole lot.’ She said, ‘No. We didn’t. We touched it up here and there, but he did a fantastic job.’ There’s a lot that goes into that. It’s not just cosmetics. Without giving away tricks, you have to create an impression, not an imitation. There’s stuff that goes into that. You want them to look certain places and not look other places.”
14. Zoe Saldana’s least favorite thing about her role reprisal was the makeup process. She jokingly stated, “My favorite part was the make-up process.” How she gets through the hours-long application? “I talk my team to death. I don’t shut up from 2:30 in the morning. I just keep talking. That’s how I get time to go by. If not, I’ll just go crazy. You can’t eat. You can’t really move around that much because they need your hands and face. Your mouth needs to be shut, because if you open your mouth, you’re gonna get a whole bunch of green paint sprayed in your mouth.”
13. Karen Gillan doesn’t feel like Nebula until she gets into full costume and makeup. She said, “It’s part of my ritual to get into character. I did this rehearsal as Nebula one time, not in makeup, and I just didn’t feel like her. It’s an imperative part of the process for me now. I literally get to wear her skin.”
14. This is a TANGO & CASH reunion…sorta. Though Russell and Sylvester Stallone, who plays Yondu’s estranged Ravager buddy Stakar Ogord, are in the same film, the pair don’t actually ever appear together. He joked, “Listen, I can’t stand Kurt Russell. To keep him away from me meant how happy I’d be. I lobbied to stay out of his scenes. If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you in Arizona.”
11. Zoe Saldana taught Karen Gillan to fight. GOTGVol2 is chock-full of empowering moments for all of the women featured. Two of those women, Gamora and Nebula, get into a sibling rivalry-fueled tussle. It’s during those knock-down, drag-out sequences that, Gillan confessed, “Zoe literally teaches me how to fight while we’re doing it. She’ll be like, ‘Turn your head like that. You’ll strangle someone like that. You’ll look cool.’” Saldana said, “Karen is very feminine and goofy. These sets are dangerous, let’s be honest. We’re on wires and everything. She’s so long and everything. She changes everything, from the look, to the walk.” Saldana later went on to say, “I’ve been itching and yearning to see more of a female presence in action films. I love action films. I’m not that deep. I love watching THE EQUALIZER. I’ll watch that 50 times over any dramatic piece. To have a film with three female characters that are adding such unique qualities to the film, they are very relevant and their relationships are explored equally.”
10. Since James Gunn directed a critical and commercial successful original film, he was mostly given carte blanche on the sequel. He elucidated, “The great thing about working with Kevin is they gave me complete freedom on both movies. On the first movie, I was a lot more timid frankly. I was afraid I was pushing the comedy – that it was too funny. Kevin and Joss [Whedon] said, ‘Make it more ‘James Gunn’.’ People seemed to like that. I’ve come to trust that what I like is what works. The great thing about working with Kevin is, we seem to be very much on the same page with what is popular and commercial and what we like that’s edgy and funny and different. I had a lot more freedom on the second movie, but most of it was from myself, allowing myself to completely go there with the story and not stop myself at any point from fear of alienating people.”
9. The Mary Poppins line was an adlib! Once you see the movie, you’ll instantly vibe with Rooker’s delivery of the Mary Poppins line – on an emotional level, as well as a comedic one. Rooker said, “We did like three, or four different ad-libs for that. For the ‘I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” James Gunn augmented, “We have a great behind-the-scenes because I threw out everything and the kitchen sink for Rooker. He said, ‘I am Mary Poppins, y’all,’ and ‘I am Mary Poppins…’and every curse word you can imagine.”
8. They had a maquette of Lil’ Baby Groot on set for reference. James Gunn said, “We had a statue, a nice maquette. There were great moments on set where we had this adorable little statue we’d have standing there. We’d have all this stuff going on and these guys acting their butts off and all of a sudden Chris would look over at that little guy and go, ‘Damn it. He’s gonna steal the whole movie.’”
7. Chris Pratt doesn’t mind being objectified. He kidded, “Objectification has been good for me. When I turned my body into an object, I got paid a lot of money. My kid’s gonna go to a GOOD college because of the object.”
6. James Gunn plays Tyler Bates’ score for the actors to get them hyped for the scene. Marvel Cinematic Universe mastermind Kevin Feige shared, “A year before we start sharing the story, James is working with Tyler Bates. Tyler starts writing score suites and a couple of really moving pieces so he could play it on the set before filming. No other film that I’ve been a part of does that.” Sean Gunn valued that. “To be able to hear the score – where sometimes there would be action sequences and part of the score is playing or the soundtrack, like at the end of the movie with ‘Father and Son,’ we’re hearing that in earbuds in our ears – that’s really awesome.”
5. This cast really does love and respect each other. When I asked a few of the returning cast members what they were looking forward the most to returning, they all stated something similar: a message of love and respect towards one another. Sean Gunn said, “My favorite thing was working with everybody again. It’s really a gift when you have a bunch of artists come together the collaborate on something and everyone really believes in the script. They aren’t just punching the clock. We get along well and respect one another a great deal. Going back and being a part of that process is awesome.” Dave Bautista agreed, “For me as well. It’s really a luxury to come back into a re-occurring role, not only where I was comfortable with the character, but I was so comfortable with my cast members because they’re people who I love and care about that I know weren’t going to judge me. I don’t have to feel self-conscious about anything that I did. They just accept me for who I am. They appreciate me and are confident they know I’ll deliver for them.”
***Spoiler Alert*** The following fun facts contain spoilers. If you would like to remain as clear as possible, bookmark this page and return after you’ve seen the movie. For all others, feel free to proceed having been warned.
4. Sly acted sly about a potential return for Volume 3. Movie star Stallone was not familiar with the comics before getting the role as Stakar. Earlier, he likened it to being “the next generation’s mythology,” and that he’s “Earth-bound” and “a terrestrial” in that comic book world. That said, he’s now brushing up more on his character’s backstory, coyly hinting with a squirm at a possible repeat appearance on the horizon. “I’m an optimist,” was all he could say.
3. That second end credits tag hints at a bigger, longer story. As you’ve already read, there are FIVE end credits scenes during this film. It may seem excessive, but it’s done for more than just garnering a nerdgasm from the audience. The second end credits tag involves Stakar talking to a different ragtag crew – one that’s similar to the 90’s Guardians squad. Feige said, “When James had the idea to do more of the Yondu character, who was also in the original Guardians, the notion that he had a team once, like Peter does now, that would be fun to see. [Ving Rhames] is definitely Charlie 27.” Gunn added, “With all the post-credits scenes, they are all funny and fun. Most of them are things we hope to see continuing on in the MCU, whether that’s in supporting roles or future movies. Ving is Charlie 27. Michelle Yeoh, who I’m an enormous fan of, is Aleta Ogord, the other Starhawk (the female Starhawk), Krugar [the red alien] and Mainframe.”
2. That fifth end credits tag elongates Stan Lee’s cameo into a full blown role and spotlights fan favorite characters. In the fifth tag, director Gunn returns back to one of the planets Yondu and Rocket blast past in hyper-speed, one where Stan Lee’s cameo occurs. He’s speaking to a trio of Watchers, a race of extra-terrestrials. Feige clarified, “I wouldn’t say you saw Uatu [the first Watcher]. I’d say you saw some Uatus. Yes, we always thought it would be fun. Stan Lee exists above and apart from the reality of all the films. The notion that he could be sitting there on a cosmic pit stop during the jump-gate sequence in GUARDIANS was something very fun. We shot that cameo and loved it so much. It wasn’t in for a long time and we put it back in towards the end of the process where he references that time he was a Federal Express agent. So that says he’s the same character who’s popped up in all these films as the same person.”
1. Howard the Duck makes yet another appearance in the GUARDIANS universe. If this is another breadcrumb to a modern spin-off HOWARD THE DUCK movie or TV series, all Feige would say was, “The fun thing about Howard is he shows up where you least expect it. Who knows when he’s going to appear next.”
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 opens on May 5.