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We need to talk about James Gunn. No, he’s not a trouble — we just think he’s dope AF.
His unique cinematic cocktail of humor, pathos, profanity, and absurdity continues to enthrall audiences across the globe on screens both big and small (be it in the MCU or the R-rated corner of the DCEU occupied by Peacemaker and the rest of the Task Force X). Now that the writer-director-producer has effectively tried his hand at two separate comic book universes at two competing studios — with great success, we might add (Borat reference not intended) — it’s time to take stock of his best Marvel and DC moments.
Activate human torpedo!
***WARNING! The following contains major spoilers for all titles mentioned!***
Star-Lord's introduction (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Come and get your love...The perfect movie opening doesn’t ex—oh wait, yes it does. There’s a reason why writer-director James Gunn was able to turn a D-list Marvel team like the Guardians of the Galaxy into a multi-billion dollar franchise: he made them fun, he made them weird, and most of all, he made them relatable. How many of us have jammed out the oldies, Star-Lord-style, when we think no one else is around? The subversion of setting up Morag as this dangerous planet only to undercut the ominous atmosphere with a Redbone song is genius and iconic. So iconic, in fact, that Avengers: Endgame saw fit to revisit the moment.
Rocket's obsession with bionic body parts (Guardians of the Galaxy)
If we had a psychiatry degree, we might theorize that Rocket’s strange obsession with collecting bionic body parts stems from his own trauma as a walking, talking mad science experiment. But since we’re not qualified to discuss to the inner workings of a sentient raccoon’s psyche, we’ll just say that this little character quirk is amazingly hilarious. Again, it goes back to the absurdity of Gunn’s sense of humor and the fact that it was kept as a running gag for vol. 2 and Infinity War speaks to the popularity of Rocket’s strange hobbies.
"I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Only James Gunn could make us burst out laughing like hyenas one minute and weep like babies the next. Yondu unwittingly comparing himself to a magical British nanny is, without question, one of the greatest moments in the Guardians sequel, but it’s also followed not long after by the character’s tragic death. As the old saying goes, you've gotta take the good with the bad. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter around the movie’s release, the writer-director admitted that the now-famous “Mary Poppins” line was not in his original script.
“When I was visualizing the scene, it didn’t look quite as heroic as I intended it to be," he said. "So then I put the Poppins line in Peter Quill’s mouth. And Yondu, of course, not knowing the name Mary or Poppins, might think he’s sort of a Lee Marvin type, and he owns it."
Thor meets the Guardians (Avengers: Infinity War)
Did you know that Gunn wrote the Guardians of the Galaxy dialogue for Avengers: Infinity War? Yep, that’s why he ended up nabbing an executive producer credit on the movie. Thinking about it in hindsight, it all makes perfect sense. Star-Lord’s childish insecurity around a newly-rescued Thor and the fact that the God of Thunder refers to Rocket as a “rabbit” feels like something that would happen in one of the group's solo outings. And come on, who doesn’t love “Rubberband Man” by The Spinners?
Polka-Dot Man's mommy issues (The Suicide Squad)
What do you get when you allow James Gunn to make a Guardians of the Galaxy movie with an R-rating? Why, you’d get The Suicide Squad, of course! The director’s initial foray into the DC Extended Universe (made possible by his temporary firing from Disney) is the writer-director firing on all cylinders. It doesn’t matter how bizarre or profane something is. If Gunn can get away with it, you can bet it’s going in the finished product.
To that point, look no further than Abner Krill, a deeply disturbed man with even deeper mommy issues. Dear old mum did some rather nasty experiments on her children and Abner ended up afflicted with an inter-dimensional virus. The resultant trauma has caused Polka-Dot Man to see his mom in everyone and everything, including a kaiju-sized starfish from beyond the stars.
Bloodsport and Peacemaker's killer contest (The Suicide Squad)
No one likes a show off… unless what they’re showing off is dope as f***. Words to live by, right? The not-so-friendly d***-measuring contest between Peacemaker and Bloodsport is something you can only get away with in a story about a team of remorseless comic book antiheroes and super-villains on a secret mission to kill an alien starfish. In no other framework is this display of lethal male bravado even remotely acceptable. Thank you and good night.
Peacemaker's opening titles (Peacemaker)
This one really speaks for itself, but let’s talk about it anyway. Packed to the teeth with glam metal hits, Peacemaker doesn’t mince words about its tone or influences with the highly unusual opening dance number that precedes every episode.
Normally, a project like this would outsource its introductory titles to an independent creative studio with experience in these matters, but not Mr. Gunn. He somehow convinced his ensemble cast to get down and jiggy to the stylings of Wig Wam’s "Do Ya Wanna Taste It.” The entire point, the director explained, was to prevent the viewer from skipping over the names of the crew members who worked so hard to make the show a reality (at the height of a pandemic, no less).
Our only question is this: will a different choreographed sequence be organized for Season 2?
Economos frames Peacemaker's dad (Peacemaker)
And to think: all that trouble with the White Dragon could have been avoided if Economos had simply framed literally anyone else on the face of the planet. Even more impressive is the extensive list of people, animals, and fictional robots Peacemaker can easily access off the top of his head. Maybe those ***** from Riverdale did deserve it. At the end of the day, though, Auggie Smith is still a really, really bad guy. You know, what with the racist agenda and all. Our sympathies for his false imprisonment are limited.
Peacemaker’s Justice League references (Peacemaker)
Nothing says “I’m insecure” more than trash talking the leading members of the frickin’ Justice League. Throughout the eight episodes of his HBO Max series, Peacemaker doesn’t make any peace, only wild accusations about the better heroes that exist across the DC Universe. Let’s recap these claims, shall we? Batman is "a p***sy," The Flash is "an unbearable d-bag," Aquaman makes love to fish, Superman has a fetish for human, and Wonder Woman once flirted with Peacemaker at a party. We forgetting anything?
“I do think that Peacemaker’s relationship to other superheroes is very specific,” Gunn said last month. "He is envious. He wants to be in that holy trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. He is not. He wants to be a member of the Justice League, and they would never let him into the Justice League. He wishes that people loved him as much as they love Aquaman, but they don’t.”
The Justice League shows up in the Peacemaker Season 1 finale
Well, most of them anyway. Batman and Cyborg were noticeably absent (probably because of Warner Bros.' ongoing dispute with Ray Fisher and the impending release of The Batman), while Superman and Wonder Woman remained in the shadows. We imagine it would've been pretty hard to lock down Henry Cavill and Gal Gadot, especially since the former's future as the Man of Steel continues to remain up in the air.
Still, it’s insane to think that this show actually got away with cameos from Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Ezra Miller (The Flash), let alone have them engage in NSFW banter on the topic Arthur’s rumored attraction to marine life. We're not sure what's more impressive: that Amanda Waller called the Justice League, or that they actually showed up (albeit once the action was already over). If James Gunn can assemble these heroes at a moment’s notice, just imagine what he’ll be able to pull off in future.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and 2 are available to stream on Disney+ along with Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. The Suicide Squad and all eight episodes of Peacemaker are now streaming on HBO Max.