In Guardians Of The Galaxy, it is the oddballs to the rescue.
For a moment, I wondered if I had mistakenly stumbled into a motivational seminar instead of the Guardians Of The Galaxy South-East Asia press conference.
“There’s more of us than there are of them,” director James Gunn said to the roomful of Asian journalists at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. At that, a wave of cheers and applause rose from the crowd, filling the air with a palpable sense of hope and encouragement.
“So many of us, from the time when we were kids, were pushed aside, were treated as second class citizens, were made fun of, were mocked, were told we couldn’t do something ... For me, it’s a reassuring thought to know that we are the majority even though we feel like the minority,” he continued.
Gunn, 43, was sharing sage advice to those who ever felt like they were an outcast.
After all, the characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy, the film adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, are, more or less, the personification of the term.
The film, produced by Marvel Studios, chronicles the journey of explorer Peter Quill aka Star-Lord who is running away from the evil Ronan after successfully stealing a precious orb that has the power to change the fate of the entire galaxy.
To keep it from falling into Ronan’s hands, he assembles a team comprising Gamora, Drax The Destroyer, Rocket and Groot called – wait for it – the Guardians Of The Galaxy.
But, erm, the team isn’t as glamorous as its name suggests.
The media was privy to an exclusive 17-minute footage screening of the film where one by one, all five characters were introduced.
Set in a maximum security prison in space, a rundown of the captives’ profile revealed team leader Quill (Chris Pratt) is basically an outlaw with an offbeat sense of humour; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a ruthless green-skinned assassin; Drax (Dave Bautista) is a physical brute who is driven by the mission to avenge the death of his family; Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is a genetically-altered raccoon who is the group’s master strategist and Groot (Vin Diesel) is a giant tree with very limited communication skills (in fact, he only says three words throughout the entire film, “I am Groot.”).
Gunn, who was joined by Saldana and Bautista during the press tour, shared that the cast and crew understand how an outcast feels having been one themselves: “We all feel like that. I’m a guy whose last movie is an independent film that costs US$3mil to make; Dave is a wrestler who people didn’t think of as a real actor; Zoe has been pushed to the sidelines her whole life because she is a person of colour.”
Indeed, Gunn isn’t the typical choice of director for big movie studios to hire and entrust a production budget of US$170mil (RM538mil). He got his start working at Troma Entertainment, an indie film studio, and began developing a cult following with the release of his horror-humour flick, Slither.
Meanwhile, 45-year-old Bautista, or more commonly known by his ring name “Batista”, is trying to put his WWE days behind him and prove that he is more than a musclehead.
“It was hard moving to Hollywood. I would walk into offices where nobody knew who I was. But hearing that I was a professional wrestler, they had this perception like I was going to walk through the door screaming and yelling. It’s hard to get people to see beyond that,” the soft-spoken Bautista revealed.
Bautista left the wrestling entertainment company in 2010 to focus on his acting career. “I could have been that guy coming out of WWE who did all those really bad straight-to-DVD films where I’m kicking the door, shooting somebody ... but I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be a serious actor,” the 1.98m-tall Greek-Filipino said of his commitment to acting, adding he has even gone on diets to lose weight.
Asked if rumours were true that he cried after learning he had gotten the part as Drax, he responded: “No, that’s not true. I literally broke down.”
Saldana – who, though, a fairly established name in the industry after starring in the sci-fi epic, Avatar – still receives her fair share of criticisms. The 36-year-old actress’ racially-ambiguous looks allows her to play a wide range of characters but viewers were up in arms when word got out that the upcoming biopic on African-American jazz singer Nina Simone will be played by the Dominican-Puerto Rican Saldana.
But Gunn sees the fact that these characters – and the actors who portray them – are oddballs and outcasts as an advantage. They are more relatable, he says adding, “I think they will speak to viewers even more than the classic superheroes.”
True to its source material, the film has a strong comedic edge to it. As such, Gunn’s previous works that thrive on a dark sense of humour naturally lend themselves to the film.
“There’s a seven-page scene in the movie where it’s not about action or adventure but our characters are just getting into an argument and people seem to think it’s their favourite scene. I’m particularly proud of it,” Gunn said.
Asked about his films’ comedic influence, he jokingly credited them to “a poor upbringing,” before citing director Preston Sturges, who is best known for his works in the 1940s, and watching the British comedy group, Monty Python, as a kid.
But did Saldana – who is recognised for playing strong, independent roles in action flicks like Colombiana – find it hard to tap into her comedic side?
“If I think about being funny, it will be a challenge. The best way to do comedy is to not play the funny stuff, it’s to play the reality of it and that’s what makes it even funnier,” the actress said.
She went on to share that the atmosphere on the set was just as lighthearted as the film.
“Chris was very funny but in a sense that he loves to sing country music. So here we are, all dressed up as aliens and then you have Chris singing Zac Brown, and everybody would sing with him,” she recalled with a laugh.
But Bautista revealed that Saldana, too, has a funny bone. “There are times when we would be on set for a long time and lunch is three hours overdue. Instead of complaining and moaning, Zoe would just sit there and eat imaginary food.
“She would never say she was hungry, she would eat imaginary food until somebody got the point,” the co-star dished.
With a quirky cast at work, Gunn felt he didn’t need to deliberately “pack in the comedy”.
“It was about letting these characters and actors fully express themselves so the humour could come out in a natural way,” he said.
Gunn also shared this combination of action and comedy in the film was inspired by his love for Asian flicks:
He said: “A lot of the films that have influenced me are Asian films, whether from Korea, China or Japan. I have found that those films deal better than American films with that mix of action and comedy. Hopefully, Guardians is a way to mix both Eastern and Western influences.”
The announcement of a sequel, slated for release on July 28, 2017, days before the film even hits cinemas, only goes to prove one thing – this bunch of misfits are not someone you want to mess with.