It's not necessarily reflected in ticket sales, but this summer's crop of movies has been one of the strongest in years. May brought poppy fun ("The Amazing Spider-Man 2"), thrills worthy of Steven Spielberg ("Godzilla") and outright hilarity ("Neighbors"). In June, it was time for twisty science-fiction ("Edge of Tomorrow"), more goofy laughs ("22 Jump Street") and the year's best romantic comedy ("Obvious Child"). July featured not just 2014's first true Oscar contender ("Boyhood"), but also an anti-gun polemic masquerading as a blockbuster ("Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"). Yet it's August that might prove to have 2014's most bizarre, cool and downright absurd release: "Guardians of the Galaxy."
The second Marvel film to grace theaters this year following "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," "Guardians of the Galaxy" owes more to "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Total Recall," "The Last Starfighter" and even "Galaxy Quest" than it does to Steve Rogers or Tony Stark. Set in an outer space that would make Flash Gordon proud, "Guardians" focuses on the ne'er-do-wells of the title, a group of disparate species who come together to protect the galaxy from intergalactic annihilation while listening to '70s rock songs.
Commanding this madness from behind the camera is James Gunn, the 43-year-old who previously directed indie genre entires "Super" and "Slither." What Gunn lacks in experience, though, he makes up for with reckless abandon: "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a sugar rush, the kind of movie that kids in 1988 would have watched two dozen times on VHS and reenacted on the school playground during recess.
Before the release of "Guardians of the Galaxy," HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Gunn about how he created the summer's coolest movie.
He Focused On A Defunct Piece Of Personal Electronics
The first hint that "Guardians of the Galaxy" is not like other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes immediately: Before even one image has appeared onscreen, the 10cc song "I'm Not In Love" plays on the movie's soundtrack. It's 1988, and a young boy named Peter Quill is listening to his Sony Walkman while sitting in a Missouri hospital outside his sick mother's room.
"When I first started writing my first draft of the script, which was significantly different from the things that came before it, the first thing that I centered around was the Sony Walkman," said Gunn, who shares a screenwriting credit on "Guardians of the Galaxy" with Nicole Perlman. "To me, really the heart of the film is the Sony Walkman, because that exemplifies the relationship between Peter Quill and his mother."
Moments after the opening scene, Quill and his Walkman are abducted by an alien spaceship. Gunn's film then cuts to an adult Quill (played by Chris Pratt) listening to that same Walkman as he tours an alien planet. This time, "Come and Get Your Love" by Redbone blasts over the images.
"Within the context of the film, I really do love 'Come and Get Your Love,' because I think that was a song that I had latched onto very early, and it solidified Peter Quill's relationship to music in the film," Gunn said. "I have a real fondness for that song in particular."
He Trusted Marvel To Let Him Go Outside The Box
Inherent in the fabric of "Guardians of the Galaxy" is some weirdness. The group includes an anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a sentient alien tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), who constantly repeats only one phrase ("I am Groot"). Still, Gunn said he was surprised and encouraged by how much leeway Marvel gave him to bring the comic property to the screen.
"I didn't expect them to allow me to change the format of the spectacle film to such a great degree," Gunn said. "The things that Marvel really seemed to like the most as I was developing the movie were the things that seemed to be the most outlandish to me. The use of 1970s pop songs, the fact that there was so much humor, the fact that I have a seven-page scene where the characters are arguing in the beginning of the third act, which is strange. Those were all the type of things that I thought were going to probably just get mushed out of the eventual movie."
Fortunately, there was no mushing. Everything Gunn wanted, including shag carpeting in Peter Quill's spaceship, is present in the final cut.
"I still would have probably enjoyed making the film, because I think there's a real heart to the center of the story, but I was very surprised that they sort of went with those unusual aspects of the movie," Gunn said.
He Didn't Make A Superhero Movie
"I honestly think of it more as a space adventure film than a superhero film," Gunn said when asked how he would characterize "Guardians of the Galaxy." "It obviously owes a great debt to Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon and the people who have really done the best Marvel superhero movies. But it also owes an even bigger debt to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas."
Gunn said he sought out to make a movie that felt like Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Lucas' "Star Wars," but without creating a simple retread. In that regard, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is similar to "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in ways beyond narrative and tone.
"There's a certain nostalgia that's inherent to 'Guardians' that does have a pulpy, space-opera feel that harkens back to the space movies of the 1970s," Gunn said. "When you think back, though, to 'Star Wars' and 'Raiders,' those movies harken back to the pulp movies of the 20s and 30s. It's very interesting to me, and it's something I didn't think about when I was making this movie. I just thought, 'Gosh, I just want to make a movie that made me feel like those movies made me feel when I was a kid.'
He Experimented With The Source Material
Unlike Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Hulk, Peter Quill and his team of misfit guardians are not well known by mainstream audiences. That allowed Gunn to take some creative license with the film -- including with characters like Yondou and Ronan the Accuser -- all while upholding the core of what "Guardians" fans love about the comic books.
"It seems to be something that people have had a pretty good reaction to," Gunn said of how he balanced the two worlds. "I think one of the reasons is because I actually am a comic-book fan. I'm not a guy coming in and doing a comic-book adaptation of characters who I have never really read. So I think that, so far, people have been okay with the things that changed."
He Thought About The Sequels
While some directors would be wary of discussing a sequel before their movie is released, Gunn admitted he's already considered further "Guardians of the Galaxy" stories.
"I had given thought to 'Guardians 2' before I even set pen to paper on 'Guardians 1,'" Gunn said. "This for me is the hopefully the springboard for what could be not only 'Guardians 2' but a whole plethora of new Marvel characters who are in outer space and all sorts of interesting things can happen with those people and creatures. I would love to be involved with those characters down the line."
As it turns out, Gunn will get his wish: "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" was officially announced during Marvel's Comic-Con panel on Saturday. That film will arrive in theaters on July 28, 2017.