Guardians 3 Proves James Gunn Understands Comics Better Than Marvel

No director has more warmly embraced comic book-style storytelling than James Gunn.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 27: James Gunn attends the world premiere of Marvel Studios' "Guardian...
Rodin Eckenroth/GA/The Hollywood Reporter/Getty Images

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a James Gunn movie through and through. The ambitious Marvel Cinematic Universe film proudly features the silliness, wit, and open-hearted sentimentality that viewers have come to expect from Gunn’s work. As a result, Vol. 3 has been held up by its supporters as proof that it is, indeed, possible for filmmakers to leave their own stamp on comic book movies — even those produced by industry titans like Marvel and DC.

We’d argue, however, that Gunn isn’t an artist whose sensibilities necessarily go against the superhero genre. As a matter of fact, all of Gunn’s comic book movies have essentially stuck to the same blockbuster formula that franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe have made popular. From The Suicide Squad to Guardians of the Galaxy, all of Gunn’s comic book films have even ended with the kind of oversized, VFX-heavy action sequences that have become old hat for superhero fans. But there’s one thing that Gunn has over the many other Marvel filmmakers.

In many ways, Gunn is a filmmaker who is actually uniquely suited to the big-budget comic book adaptations he’s made a career out of helming — and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 proves that.

In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, James Gunn finally tells the origin story of Rocket Raccoon.

Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a big, messy, ambitious piece of sci-fi spectacle. Visually and tonally, the film feels like a cross between a typical MCU blockbuster and a 1970s sci-fi adventure. It’s silly, violent, colorful, funny, emotional, and a bit too sappy for its own good, and it’s often all of those things at once. Behind the camera, Gunn continues to embrace the silliness and visual vibrancy of comic books far more passionately and willingly than many of his contemporaries. As has been the case ever since he directed the first Guardians film, Gunn’s extensive knowledge of comic book lore is also on full display in Vol. 3.

It isn’t just Gunn’s most artistic instincts that are featured in his latest — and final — MCU effort, though. As was the case with both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Suicide Squad, Gunn’s newest effort is full of more clunky exposition dumps than it knows what to do with. It also frequently has its characters verbally spell out their biggest emotional moments even when they really don’t need to. That said, Gunn’s inability to embrace one of the key tenets of screenwriting (show, don’t tell) isn’t unique to him. That’s a mistake comic books often make as well.

For all these reasons and more, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 doesn’t just feel like a James Gunn movie. It also feels a bit like a living, breathing comic book.

For better or worse, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has all the hallmarks of a James Gunn film.

Marvel Studios

It’s clear that James Gunn genuinely loves comic books. His passion for the medium has helped him not only emerge as one of the leading voices in the superhero sphere but also secure his job as the co-head of DC Studios. His love of comic books isn’t just apparent in the interviews he gives, either, but in the ways in which he himself tells stories.

Gunn’s films are colorful, splashy, and unabashed in their weirdness. They’re also clunky, awkward, schmaltzy, and — much like the comic books that have inspired many of them — about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Taking that into account, while you may or may not like the movies he makes, it’s become clear that James Gunn is, for better and for worse, the very definition of a comic book movie director.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now playing in theaters.

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