Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For F*** Magazine

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Director : James Gunn
Cast : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2h 16min
Opens : 27 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Pop the tape in the deck and pump up the volume, ‘cos Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Pratt) and company have returned. Our loveable gang of a-holes crosses the cosmos in an adventure that brings Quill face-to-face with his biological father, Ego (Russell) the Living Planet. That’s not the only family reunion taking place: assassin Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan), the daughters of Thanos who have long been at each other’s throats, cross swords again. Jolly big guy Drax (Bautista), cantankerous cybernetically-enhanced raccoon Rocket (Cooper) and wee sapling Baby Groot (Diesel) are along for the ride. The team makes a new ally in the form of Mantis (Klementieff), an alien empath raised by Ego. They also make a new enemy: the haughty High Priestess Ayesha (Debicki) of the Sovereigns, who has put a bounty on the Guardians’ heads. In the meantime, Yondu (Rooker) is in danger of being displaced, as Taserface (Sullivan) leads a coup against him within their gang of Ravagers. The fate of the galaxy once against rests on the wildly different-sized shoulders of our ragtag heroes.

Before Guardians of the Galaxy’s release in 2014, several industry watchers were predicting it could be the first high-profile misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Following its rollicking critical and commercial success, director James Gunn was feted as having accomplished the nigh-impossible. Now that the first Guardians film has become a juggernaut and Chris Pratt is an established movie star, that dark horse sheen has worn off. We can imagine Gunn having a mini “now what?” crisis as he was prepping the sequel. He certainly had his work cut out for him, and Vol. 2 retains much of the wacky charm that made the first film as distinctive and enjoyable as it did, while further exploring what makes this colourful cast of characters tick.

Gunn stated in a Facebook post that he dislikes sequels bringing characters back to square one. In Vol. 2, we see arcs progress, and everybody gets their moment in the sun. It’s a precarious balancing act, and at times the push/pull between far-out spectacle and exploring motivations and backstories is palpable. As with several MCU outings before it, there’s the danger of the humour undercutting the drama. However, that’s not as big a problem here, because this is the funniest MCU movie yet. Since there are so many jokes, some don’t land, and the more juvenile innuendos might make parents nervously hope their kids won’t ask for explanations about them later.

In hyping up the film, Pratt promised Vol. 2 would be the “biggest spectacle movie of all time”. As much as Gunn continues to do his own thing, Vol. 2 is noticeably working overtime to top the first one, and this can sometimes be exhausting. The set-pieces are varied and thrilling and the visuals are dazzling, but sometimes there’s a little too much going on – this is most noticeable during the finale. The visual effects work is splendid (apart from one iffy de-aging job), and the environments are consistently mesmerizing. Production designer Scott Chambliss, whose credits include Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness and Tomorrowland, has outdone himself with the cosmic-Rococo palace which Ego calls home. Vol. 2 of Quill’s Awesome Mixtape is the right degree of eclectic: the opening credits unfold to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, while the lyrics of Looking Glass’ Brandy become a key plot point.

Gunn’s dialogue preserves the voices of each returning character, and the principals reprise their roles with entertaining aplomb. Pratt has the ‘fun action hero’ thing down pat and yes, gets another gratuitous shirtless scene.

Saldana struts about with utmost confidence, and pulls off a potentially ridiculous scene in which Gamora wields a ludicrously oversized cannon. Bautista continues to prove that he is a gifted comedian, showcasing timing sharper than the daggers Drax brandishes.

Cooper gets some of the film’s best lines, delivering them in the vocal approximation of mange. If you thought Diesel was overpaid for saying the same line repeatedly in the first one, he doesn’t even sound like himself here. Anyone could have voiced Baby Groot. Still, that doesn’t detract from how adorable the character is, those limpid eyes and that plaintive expression sure to elicit “aww”s aplenty from the audience.

Russell is a big get, and if there’s anyone who should play the father of a daring spacefaring scoundrel, it should be Snake Plissken/Jack Burton himself. He’s enjoying himself, and to Gunn’s credit, this doesn’t become an endless string of references to the iconic entries in Russell’s filmography. Like Star Wars before it, Guardians trades in mythical archetypes. This is the tale of a god, the mortal he fell in love with, and the progeny they bore: think Zeus, Danaë and Perseus. The ‘team-up with long-lost dad’ device has been employed in everything from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Therefore, even given its fantastical trappings, Vol. 2’s take on things is fairly predictable.

Debicki, looking like she’s escaped the clutches of Goldfinger, is yet another underwhelming MCU villain – but it seems like this was intentional this time around. Rooker gets some surprisingly emotional notes to play amidst a pirate drama in which Yondu gets displaced by mutinying Ravagers. We gain more insight into the rivalry between Gamora and Gillan’s steely, formidable Nebula, and the soap opera-ness is a safe distance from being too cheesy.

Klementieff’s Mantis is a naïf to the nth degree, and jokes are had at her expense while we’re meant to empathize with her. The character’s convoluted backstory in the comics has been handily distilled, and she makes for an interesting addition to the team. Sean Gunn, brother of James, gets an increased part that, if one is being cynical, can be chalked up to nepotism. It’s hard to stay cynical while watching something like Vol. 2, though.

Keep your eyes peeled for several cameos beyond the standard Stan Lee moment, and take a quick glance around the hall to see the cognoscenti nodding in approval when an obscure Marvel character pops onscreen. Five (count ‘em) stinger scenes are spread throughout the end credits. Vol. 2 might not have the same bold, devil-may-care freshness that its predecessor had, but there’s no shortage of vim and verve. The cutest little tree creature you’ve ever seen doesn’t hurt, either.

Summary: While there’s a bit of a struggle in balancing the spectacle with the character beats, Vol. 2 possesses most of the offbeat charm, visual splendour and knee-slapping humour as its forebear.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Shoutout from Lexi Alexander

When I was part of Zoe Saldana’s round-table interview during the Guardians of the Galaxy Singapore press tour, Saldana spoke about the dearth of women in creative roles in Hollywood (you can read the article here). I brought up Lexi Alexander, director of Punisher: War Zone, Oscar-nominee for her short film Johnny Flynton and a World Point Fighting/Karate champion. In short, an all-around badass.

This piqued Saldana’s interest and I was really thrilled that Ms. Alexander herself came across the article and mentioned it on Twitter. Here are some screenshots of her Twitter feed and the responses it received:

“Femme Malheureuse” is French for “Unhappy Woman”. Thanks Ms. Alexander for considering me an #ally! 

Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: James Gunn

As published in Issue #55 of F*** Magazine

At the time of this posting, GotG is a massive success and Gunn has written an open thank-you note to the fans and to Marvel which can be read here.

Text: 
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY INTERVIEWS
JAMES GUNN
By Jedd Jong
The guy who will lead the Guardians on their cosmic journey from the director’s chair is James Gunn, whom some pundits are saying could be the next Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. Like those two, Gunn comes from a background of deliberately schlocky horror films but is poised to hit the big time with the massive Marvel movie that is Guardians of the Galaxy. Gunn cut his teeth on the low-budget kitschy gore-filled flicks of Troma Entertainment and wrote the screenplays for films like Scooby Doo and the Dawn of the Deadremake. He made his directorial debut with the sci-fi horror comedy Slither, which has become a cult favourite among horror aficionados and is known for its disgusting body horror effects. There’s also James Gunn’s PG Porn, a web series in which he pairs adult actors with mainstream ones, re-creating scenarios from pornographic movies – just without the sex.
Gunn sat down with F*** at the Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference in Singapore to discuss the process of finding his leading man in Chris Pratt, the impact of Star Warsaction figures on his filmmaking career, the decision to have two of the biggest stars in the film voice CGI characters and the design philosophy behind the film’s aesthetic.
Are you concerned about how the film will perform at the box office?
Am I worried about the box office now? Of course! I hope the film does well, it looks like it’s going to do okay, it’s a different thing, we’re trying to build a franchise so the first movie is about creating a group that people want to go and see. But yeah, I’m always concerned about that mostly because I want the opportunity to do another one and if the movie does well, I’ll get to do that. If we make $4 billion, I’ll be really happy (laughs).
What would happen if Beezel from Movie 43 met Rocket Raccoon?
(Groans, then laughs) It will be very strange because one’s CGI and one’s animated. I’ve never even seen the final movie, so I have no idea.
What is the biggest difference between Guardians of the Galaxy and the other Marvel movies?
The biggest difference is me and the cast of weirdoes we have involved with this film, and I don’t only mean the cast as (just) the actors, I mean the cinematographer, the production designer, everyone involved with this movie – we really wanted to create something completely new and completely different, a huge action-adventure set in space that hearkened back to older films but was also like something nobody had ever seen before. So that need to make it, it wasn’t like “oh, we’re doing this in relation to Marvel”, it was like “no, we’re making this movie in relation to all movies as a whole”. We didn’t feel very restrained by Marvel, we were trying to make a movie that was completely itself and that’s probably the biggest difference.
You compared the Avengers to the Beatles and the Guardians to the Rolling Stones…
Yes, that is true. We’re a little bit looser, a little bit more rock and roll and little bit screwier than the Avengers, they’re kind of the clean-cut good guys and we’re the scraggly that will come in and save the day but steal your wallet on the way out.
Is Chris Pratt Jagger?
Uh…I don’t think it breaks down like that! (Laughs)
You wrote a novel called The Toy Collector. How does it feel to have action figures of a movie you’ve directed, and what do you think of the Guardians toys that have been produced?

I love it you know, because when I was a kid, I loved Star Wars figures. I liked the ability to be able to love a movie and then have a little piece of it that I could play with and with those figures, I was able to create my own Star Wars adventures and my own Star Wars stories that were different from the ones that I had seen, and maybe in some ways, that was part of the birth of my filmmaking career, because I was learning how to be a storyteller. And so the idea that kids will be able to own a Drax and a Star-Lord and a Rocket and be able to tell their own stories with that and in that way become more a part of the film and have more of an intimacy with the film, I think that’s a really exciting thing.
Were you into 70s pop culture even before making this film?
I’m pretty much into pop culture in general. I love good pop culture and I’m sort of fascinated by bad pop culture, so being able to…usually when you have these outer space dramas, there’s nothing resembling pop culture whatsoever because they’re really “out there”. Even Star Wars, which is very human, is very “out there” and above it all. In Guardians, we aren’t above it all. This is a guy who is taken from Earth when he’s 8 years old so to him, this is not pop culture, those are holy relics. He thinks Alf, that’s a masterpiece! He thinks of these songs that his mother gave him, they’re the greatest, they’re Beethoven, they’re Mozart! Blue Swede is the greatest group of musicians of all time! It’s being able to see it through Peter Quill’s eyes, he still has the eyes of a child, which is pretty fun because I feel like maybe I do as well.
How important for you was it to find the right Peter Quill?
It was the most important thing and I tell you, my hardest day on this movie I think was…we searched so long and so hard for Peter Quill, and we read everyone you can imagine: A-list stars, people that no one has ever heard of, everybody, because I really wanted to bring to the movie what Robert Downey, Jr. brought to Iron Man. He came in and he was able to create this character that worked really well within the story but also had something more there and brought something to it that was his own thing and he made it better than what it was on the page, and I knew that that was our bar, we needed to find someone who was as good and we needed to find somebody that if ever he was in a movie with Robert Downey, Jr., we think that he could hold his own and probably kick his ass.
And so, we looked and we looked and we looked, and we narrowed it down to 5 actors, many of whom are very famous people. We did a screen test with all 5 of those actors and they were all very, very good – but I went home that night and I was like “none of them are quite right.” I’ve never talked about this before, but that was my lowest point – I really thought I was going in the next day and Marvel would be like “well, it’s too late, we need to choose somebody” and Kevin Feige would say “we’ve got to go with so and so” and I felt in my heart that none of them were quite right. I went in the next day, we watched the screen tests and Kevin turned to me and said “god, they’re all really good, but I don’t think any of them are quite right.” And I was so, so happy, and that’s when I knew I had a true partner in Kevin Feige who is the producer, somebody who had my back when I needed it, somebody I could trust, somebody who wasn’t going to settle for second best and that was a big relief. And so when we found Chris, which wasn’t too long after that, yeah it was a relief and I knew it within 20 seconds of him auditioning that he was the guy.
What was it about him that made him “the guy”?
Um, that’s a great question…
He doesn’t come across as your typical action hero…
No…I think that’s what it was! I mean, Chris is a personality and he has a certain way of speaking that fit the words I had written for Star-Lord so perfectly and added himself to it, so there was this extra thing. Here’s the thing: Chris Pratt is the biggest movie star in the world, it’s just that people don’t know it yet. There is nobody like him, nobody. He is a big masculine dude like so few movie stars are today, but he’s also very funny. He’s a fantastic dramatic actor and he also has a vulnerability that very few actors have. He has everything that you really want in a leading man and is not only one of the greatest movie stars today, I think he’s in the line of the classics, the Gary Coopers, the Clint Eastwoods…that’s the kind of talent he is and that’s the kind of rare talent he is, so I was extremely happy to find Chris.
Karen Gillan is not the name that immediately springs to mind when one thinks “blade-wielding femme fatale” because she’s best known as Amy Pond in Doctor Who, but she looks awesome in the trailers. What was it about her that made her the right fit for Nebula?
She’s a good actress. I wasn’t there the first time she auditioned, she auditioned for the casting director, and he would send me the tapes of the different actors and he would say the people he thought were good and I was going through it and I saw Karen Gillan. I went “oh, who is that?” and I remembered she was in Doctor Who. I just watched it out of curiousity, like I didn’t think she was going to be that good, and I started watching and I was like “holy s***, that girl’s a real actress!” I thought she was just this goofy, I thought she acted like Amy Pond – and she does kind of act like Amy Pond, she’s a fruit loop in real life. She’s a really nice girl and she’s this really grounded, terrific actress and in fact, I’ve got to say, we screen tested her and out of all the screen tests of everybody, her screen test was really my favourite because she added a lot of depth to the character and it just so happens that when you put that makeup on her and give her a couple of weapons in her hands, she really is a sort of Clint Eastwood character. She’s really terrific.
In the cast, you’ve kind of had the two biggest names, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, voice computer-generated characters. How did it work out that way?
We just try to cast the best person for every role and Bradley I came to because we auditioned a lot of people for Rocket and Rocket was another very, very difficult role because Rocket is very funny, he gets a lot of the laugh lines in the movie but he’s also somebody we’ve got to believe as a real character. The core of who Rocket is is that he’s this sad little mangled beast that’s been screwed over by the universe and you’ve got to feel for him. You’ve got to think he’s funny in the beginning, then when you go through the movie, you’ve got to think “oh man, I feel sorry for him, he’s had a real rough life” and you’ve got to see it through his eyes and see what he sees. Bradley as an actor, in his career, has done comedy really well and he’s done drama very well and he was able to bring that together in the character of Rocket.
I remember when some of the executives saw the first cut of the movie and were like “we love it, it’s great, but Bradley Cooper doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper!” It’s like “we paid him all that money so what about that?”
And I’m like “of course he doesn’t sound like Bradley Cooper, he sounds like Rocket!” And that was the end of that and Bradley and I from the beginning were like “what does he sound like, who is this guy, what does he feel?” and so he was great.
And then, Vin is a delight! Did you guys see his video the other day when he was standing on stilts doing the character? He’s crazy (laughs) he wears stilts when he does the voice so he feels like Groot!
How many iterations of “I am Groot” did you make Vin say?
A lot, a lot! Anyway, man, I watch the movie now and I watch Groot speak and I swear, I don’t feel like that’s a human who’s talking! I feel like that’s a tree! And it’s so crazy, people think I’m crazy, they think I’m nuts when I say this but I say to my editor when I’m sitting next to him working on the movie, “I can’t believe how much emotion this guy brings to 3 words that he says 30 times in the movie!” And he really tells the whole story with those 3 words and he’s kind of a fan favourite when they watch the whole movie. Man, he’s great. I can’t imagine anybody…Vin Diesel was born to play Groot! Nobody in the world could have ever done it better!
What were the inspirations for the aesthetic of the film, and what were your directions to Charlie Wen, Ryan Meinerding and the other concept artists when they were designing this film?

Well, I think that when I first got hired to do this movie the first thing that really struck me was the opportunity to create a space action adventure that had its own sort of aesthetic to it. I gave them, everybody involved sort of this booklet of what the rules were of our world. One of the things was, when Alien and Blade Runnerwere made in the late 70s and early 80s, they came in with this sort of dark look and they were amazing for their time, but they also sort of created what all future movies looked like and everything had to be dark and seedy and all of this.
With Guardians, I really wanted to bring back the colour of films from the 50s and 60s, pulp films, and have something that was brightly colourful yet still grounded and dirty and messy and lived-in and real, to sort of combine those things in a way that hasn’t been done before. So I think it really is taking the best from the history of films and also creating something new, and I could talk about that for an hour because there were a lot of things in that document that were…usually in a space movie when you go to a planet, it looks as if every building was designed by the same architect, you know? But go to downtown Singapore and there’s a bunch of different stuff; same thing with any city in the world, there’s a bunch of different looks there, there’s stuff that’s really old and stuff that’s really new, and if something’s been around for a long time, you can bet that there’s something made of stone next to whatever the floating building is next to it.
So it’s trying to create that post-modern world with a mix of different things in it, and to really create that contrast of having something really beautiful next to something that’s sort of ugly and for that, there’s a painting by Magritte called Visions of Light (actually The Empire of Lights), and  I don’t know if you guys know this painting but it looks like it’s daytime on the ground and it’s night-time in the sky and I used that as kind of a guiding force in creating these landscapes that were beautiful skies with these really cavernous, ugly landscapes contrasting each other and using that throughout the architecture, throughout the movie.

Guardians of the Galaxy

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
2014
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Opens : 31 July 2014
Rating : PG13 
Run time: 121 mins

            Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is drawing to a close, the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron imminent. With Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU heads, to quote Dragonheart’s Draco, “to the stars”. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), taken from earth as a child, is in search of a prized orb. His treasure hunt sets him on a collision course with some rather colourful characters. These include Gamora (Saldana), an assassin and the adopted daughter of the intergalactic tyrant Thanos (Brolin), Drax (Bautista), hungry for vengeance after his wife and child are slain, Rocket (Cooper), a smart-mouthed, cybernetically-enhanced raccoon and Groot (Diesel), a humanoid tree creature. This unlikely band calls themselves “the Guardians of the Galaxy”, confronting bounty hunter Korath (Hounsou), treacherous zealot Ronan (Pace) and Gamora’s jealous adopted sister Nebula (Gillan) in order to prevent Ronan from getting his hands on a cataclysmic weapon.

            Following the departure of director Edgar Wright and actor Patrick Wilson from the upcoming Ant-Man, murmurs have begun to swirl that the executives at Marvel Studios are exercising too much creative control over their films. That Guardians of the Galaxy even got made assuages those fears at least a little. Producer Kevin Feige says this is the “riskiest movie [he’s] done since Iron Man” and that is not hyperbole. In the hands of maverick director James Gunn, he of Slither, James Gunn’s PG Pornand Troma Pictures fame, GotG is wild, woolly and drastically different from everything else that has come before in the MCU. If Thor, drawing on Norse mythology, was outré, this is certainly even more so. The screenplay which Gunn co-wrote with Nicole Perlman is sharp and consistently funny, irreverent yet far from cynical and alienating (hee) as it well could’ve been.  

            In an age where it feels Hollywood has gotten more and more homogenised, it is refreshing to see a big-budget, mass-market blockbuster that is, well, this refreshing. Spectacle is not in short supply, the world-building on display truly dazzling and electric. For at least a few kids out there, this is going to be their Star Wars: Xandar, Knowhere, the Kyln, the Dark Aster their Tatoonie, Bespin, Hoth or Death Star. These are colourful worlds but they still retain grit and believability. The visual effects work, the character animation on Rocket and Groot in particular, is very commendable. The tree-creature and the talking raccoon both convincingly inhabit the same space as the flesh-and-blood actors, their expressions and movements nuanced and even genuinely moving.

            Chris Pratt is proving himself to be an unlikely but most deserving leading man, shedding the pounds and putting on the muscle to play Star-Lord. His comedic timing and roguish charm combine to make him an ideal protagonist, reminiscent of Han Solo in the best way possible. Saldana continues to hold her own as the capable, commanding action girl of the moment and Bautista brings heart and warmth to the literal-minded, muscle-bound Drax. Taking Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, arguably two of the bigger names of the cast, and having them provide voices for animated characters can be seen as yet another intentionally unorthodox move on the part of the filmmakers. Saying “I am Groot” repeated ad nauseam may sound like an easy paycheck but Diesel, who broke our hearts as the Iron Giant back in 1999, brings that same basso profundo kindness to Groot – and sounds great angry, too. Hollywood superstars with little real voice-acting experience often “die in the booth” –Cooper does not. As the irascible raccoon, he is amusing but also makes the character far more than the requisite funny talking animal and is certainly a better choice than Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey, rumoured to be attached to the part.

            Unfortunately, the film suffers slightly in the villains’ department. Lee Pace delights in being showy and menacing, Karen Gillan is still a knockout playing against type, even painted blue and with a bald head and Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos is but a teaser for his later involvement in the MCU. All quite serviceable, it’s just that their confrontations with our heroes are not as dramatic and explosive as they could’ve been. Still, this is at the expense of character development for the titular team and this is more than forgivable. The eclectic supporting cast including names as disparate as Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro and Michael Rooker add a distinct flavour to the proceedings as well.

            Guardians of the Galaxy is everything this reviewer loves about movies, particularly movies that defined his tastes during childhood. There’s action, adventure, humour, visual fireworks and just enough heartstring-tugging sentiment. The soundtrack is excellent as well, Star-Lord viewing his mix-tapes as precious family heirlooms and the only physical reminder of his late mother he has left. And ultimately, this is a movie about a ragtag bunch that may be far-out but are still relatable and are totally the kinds of people (and raccoons and tree-creatures) you’d want to sit in a cantina with and just hang out. Oh, and the post-credit scene for this one is the biggest treat any hard-core fan of the weirder corners of the Marvel Universe could ever want.


Summary: Out of this world.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: Zoe Saldana


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY INTERVIEWS
ZOE SALDANA

By Jedd Jong


Zoe Saldana has carved a niche for herself as the go-to ass-kicking femme in everything from Colombiana and The Losersto Star Trek and, of course, Avatar. Like Neytiri from that film, Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is a formidable alien warrior, though her back-story is more tragic – an orphan who is kidnapped, forced to accept a tyrant as her adopted father and forged into the “deadliest woman in the galaxy”. Looking ravishing as always in a subtle low-cut floral print dress, the actress noticed this writer’s Marvel Legends Gamora action figure on the table as she came in to talk Guardians with F***. She appeared thrilled to play with the figure, but upon closer inspection, was slightly disappointed. “That’s not my face,” she said as she examined the bored-looking, expressionless little plastic Gamora. Tsk tsk, Hasbro!

 
However, it was far too small a matter for Saldana to be bothered by and she was thrilled that she was getting another action figure anyway. She shared about her penchant for sci-fi action adventure parts, her desire to break out of the designated roles for women in films, the design of Gamora’s costume and makeup, working with leading man Chris Pratt and of her support for Argentina in the World Cup.
What’s Gamora like on the inside?
Obviously, on the surface she looks fabulous, she can fight, she can kill, she can do this, but I wanted to know why she was the way that she was. Then you learn that she was an orphan, that she was taken from her planet, that she was forced into a life of violence, battle and crime, she was forced to adopt a father that basically caused so much harm to her and her people so there’s a lot of confusion to Gamora and I felt there’s so many situations in life that we’ve heard in the news, even with the lost kids of Sudan, like if there’s anything I can compare Gamora to, it would have to be that. It’s a very similar story where you’re taken from your home in the middle of the night and you become someone else even though deep, deep down, you’re not as bad as you’re supposed to be. So that was sort of my approach to Gamora because when it came to all the fight sequences, I was like “I know she’s going to be great, they’re going to get an amazing stuntwoman [laughs] to make her look super, super cool, and I’m going to work just as hard as I always do” and then we just focus on the heart factor of her.

Guardians_Of_The_Galaxy_FT-14925_R
When you were filming an action scene, you nearly broke Chris Pratt’s wrist. Could you tell us about what happened?
His wrist. I think I did. I kicked him hard one time and he said it didn’t bother, like he said “it’s okay, it’s okay” but then I saw him kind of limping away…my god! Yeah, it happens, I think I smacked him a couple of times and I think Karen and I would bump our swords and sort of hit each other and go “oh god! I’m so sorry I’m sorry.” You have those moments that you kind of break character and you realise “oh my god, I can really hurt someone if I don’t focus and be careful.”
You were in Star Trek, Avatar and now Guardians. What is it about science fiction films that attracts you to them?
Um, I know and then I don’t know. It’s good stories, they usually come with good directors, I like working with good people, there’s something very fascinating about being able to work with people who can imagine the unimaginable that makes me feel limitless. Also, as a woman and as a woman of colour, the roles on earth are just a little too typical for me – either you’re playing someone’s girlfriend or someone’s wife or someone’s mother – and that’s great, I love doing those roles when it comes in a great package with a great story and a great director, but not all the time, every now and then I want to play something different even though the story’s still going to be the same, you’re still going to fall in love with the guy, but I just feel a little more substantial and relevant to the story, I guess and they all have the coincidence that they’re set in space. I would love to do them on earth, but they’re not [laughs].
Was there some friendly competition going on between you and Karen Gillan who plays your adopted sister and what was it like working with her?

Fantastic, it was really great. I think our characters are very competitive, I think that Nebula is much more competitive with Gamora because there’s a preference that Thanos has with her, that I hope that in the sequel we can go into that, but I feel that in this movie, James did a wonderful job establishing this kind of relationship that Nebula and Gamora have which is very dysfunctional, because it’s one-sided. The hate is from one side and the love is also from one side, so that creates a very big conflict because they’re sisters, even though they’re not [biologically] but that’s the way I see Nebula.
Working with Karen or with a woman will never be competitive, at least from my end and from Karen, it was never competitive. If anything, it’s empowering, it is beautiful because sometimes being the only female in the cast can get to be very lonely [laughs].

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How did your life change after Avatar?

It gave me the possibility to be working with a filmmaker like James Gunn, who saw my work in Avatar and thought “oh you know what, she can play a great Gamora” so being a part of an amazing movie like Avatar which is – please don’t think I’m arrogant for saying this, but it’s true – it was considered, no it is the biggest movie on earth! [Laughs] means that a lot of people saw it and it wasn’t just the audience, it wasn’t just the fans and the viewers, it was also filmmakers, actors, producers and writers and it gave them an impression of my work and a feeling that maybe they would want to work with me. It’s given me an exposition that I’m still able to benefit from after all these years and I will always be indebted to that movie, that whole experience, James Cameron and Neytiri for that.

You have several big projects lined up, Avatar 2 and 3

…And 4 [laughs]!

And Star Trek 3, how do you balance your time between your career and your family?

God, I guess…just whatever comes first will have to be…life sometimes just needs to happened as opposed to you just controlling everything. If I create an imbalance in my life where I’m just living to work, then when all of a sudden I’m willing to live, I might miss things that are very important about life so I try as I grow older to incorporate, to try and live in harmony with all the things that are presented on my plate and those things that are presented presently on my plate may push others away or push others to another time then it was meant to be. So I’m just happy that all these franchises that I’ve done are able to be called “franchises” and that they have no intentions of recasting my characters [laughs] and these are filmmakers that I also consider my friends and my family so I know that whatever will be happening in my life, I know that they will have my support as friends and as people first, and then their support as professionals.

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How much say did you have in the design of Gamora’s costume and what shade of green she would be?

(Laughs) actually believe it or not, I had, but it didn’t feel like I used it, like I used that power or that privilege or that gift. It felt like such a collaboration of trying to put Gamora together, all of together as a collective from Alex[andra] Byrne the costume designer to Vera Steimberg who did my makeup and created the colouring, the right shade of green to what kind of colour hair she was going to have.

I felt that if she had…and now I had an opinion about it, I felt like her ends needed to be a different colour because I thought it needed to be a non-human colour, a funky colour. If it was all black, then she was just going to have a very mean look. Green has been equated to Martians, to bad and evil aliens, so I was already coming with an impediment and she was supposed to be the female eye candy so I was like “well, good luck with that!” I think she needs a little bit of funkiness and we tried it and it really worked, it felt fun and youthful so we went with it. Alex was all about making her look, obviously, like a badass, but because she’s done many Marvel movies and she’s had to dress a lot of females, comfort is also very important, flexibility, especially because she knows I do a lot of my own stunts so I did not want to be restricted by the costume but I also didn’t want to compromise how beautiful it looked. So we always collaborated.

I think my biggest issue with the whole thing was probably the boots. They were made by specific people that obviously they [Marvel Studios] were always working with and talking to, but they felt…they were different levels and I would have lower ones whenever I was running, higher ones whenever I was standing and the flat ones whenever we were doing hard, stunt-y scenes, not only me but also my stunt double. And then the sets were just uneven, the flooring, so you want to be careful, you don’t want to break an ankle and then compromise the whole production so there were a lot of observations that I had with the shoes. The older you get, you just get pickier with your shoes [laughs]. I thought that was never going to happen! I was 29 years old, looking at women going “put your shoes back on, why are you changing into your trainers, we should walk in heels every day!” and now look at me [gets up to walk around] – flats! People change I guess!

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The film is about saving the universe. Is there something that you’re passionate about on earth that you would like to save?

Saving the universe. I’m joking. Something I’m passionate about…women. I’m very passionate about women. I love being a woman, I am a devout artist, that is who I was born to be, and I am starving for a feminine presence, more of a feminine presence in art, not just in film, but also in our directors, in our painters and sculptors, we need that. Not just women, men need that. Men need women. It’s very important that if art is supposed to imitate life, we need to have a more accurate depiction of what life really is in our art. So, it’s very discouraging for me as an art-lover and a film-lover that whenever I’m not shooting films and I want to go to movies, I don’t have a decent selection of films where they’re female centred. And the female films are usually precious little movies, I just want to see harder movies! I want to see women playing characters that the men get to play, that are psychopaths, that are villains, that are crazy, that are cops, that are detectives, the heroes sometimes because in reality, that’s who we are, you know, just as much as the men are, so that’s one thing I’m very passionate about.

Is that how you choose your roles?

Yeah. I don’t choose it because I have this duty; it’s natural to me. I wasn’t just made to be someone’s wife or someone’s mother or someone’s girlfriend, it’s like that’s a part of me, but if I did that all day I’d be like “oh god, how boring!” I’m a serviceable human being. Yes, servicing is part of who we are supposed to be as a human race, but not all of it, so it’s not real. It’s unnatural to me to see women in a movie who just come out and oh, she’s sexy or she’s naked and she’s making love and the man always talks to her like she’s a piece of crap and then he walks away and then she dies! And he doesn’t cry for her. Oh my god, that doesn’t even represent the men I know in my life, you know what I’m saying? And our action movies sometimes are voided of sentiment and drama and human behaviour, accurate human response to something.
That’s why I love Guardians because Quill, to me, is the perfect hero. He’s so broken, he’s so scared, he’s so flawed, he’s such a player, all these things are what makes him special, what makes him the worthiest candidate to save the universe, as opposed to somebody who just comes and bends steel. It’s like “okay, great” [laughs]. I want somebody to learn to bend steel because they’re unlearning ugly things about themselves. I hope I stayed on the same…I tend to trail away, sorry! [Laughs]

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Speaking of Quill, how was it working with Chris Pratt?

It was wonderful, he is sweet, talented, humble, everyday kinda guy, super diverse in his acting, it was just…and he’s a husband and a father, everything about Chris Pratt is made for a star. That is an individual, an actor who is worthy of being called a movie star and these are things that I don’t believe in, I don’t believe in “stars” and “fame” and “celebrity”, I believe in artists. But this man, I would want to see stories being told through his eyes because he’s fun and he takes you with it, he’s just great. And, he doesn’t think that he can do it. And I’m like “I think it’s a little pattern, a little shtick you’re pulling here, you know what you’re doing, you planned this out…”

No, he’s totally, just naturally like (imitating Pratt) “I don’t know if I could do this…”

I say “Chris, just do it!” And then he does it and it’s just great. I mean, look at the transformation that he did with his body for this movie, it makes me want to cry because he worked so hard for it and it wasn’t just for aesthetics. It wasn’t just a cosmetic thing because that would give out the wrong message.

He was coming from one place and one world where he always got used to being told “you’re gonna be second because you’re not attractive, you’re not the material that you need to make a movie star”.

And he said “well first of all, that shouldn’t be the material that you’re basing a movie star on, but if that is, I’m just going to do it for health reasons first and two, to prove that it can be done.” And then everything else just fell into place, it was beautiful to watch.

When you were talking about female directors, I was thinking if perhaps you would consider working with Lexi Alexander, who did Punisher: War Zone, she’s an interesting female director.

What movie is that, can you tell me?

Punisher: War Zone

When did it come out?

2008. It was buried by the studio…

Gary? Is my publicist here? Can you make a note of that?

Her name is Lexi Alexander, she’s a martial arts champion and an Oscar-nominated short film director who made a comic book movie and wants to create action films.

I like her already!

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You were in Infinitely Polar Bear alongside Mark Ruffalo, and perhaps Gamora and the Hulk would get along because they’re both green. Do you think the Guardians will get to meet the Avengers further down the line?

Yes. I think that that reunion is inevitable. I just hope that I’m in it, I really do.

(To Gary) There’s this filmmaker, Lexi Alexander, who made this movie called Punisher, Punisher: War Zone. Can you remind me to go get it? Where is she from, the States?

Germany, I think.

Nice! I like her already.

Have you been watching the World Cup?

Yes, are you kidding me [laughs]?! Ask me what time I woke up today! 3, okay, and I saw the entire Argentina match, did I tell you guys about it?

How are you awake and fresh now?

Because remember guys, I come from L.A. and it’s 15 hours behind, I don’t know what time it is now, is it the middle of the night?

Gary: It’s 10 o’clock.

Zoe: That’s why. Give me two hours, I’m going to be miserable [laughs]. I’m joking actually.

Did you sleep after watching the match?

No no no, because we were so excited that Argentina won! The makeup artist is from Argentina, so I have to root for Argentina because otherwise she wouldn’t have helped me [laughs].

You’re supporting Argentina in the finals?

Yes. I’m Latina, I’m a first generation Latina, I grew up in the Caribbean so half of my friends are called “Diego” [after Maradona]. Latinos just do that. When you have a boy, they say “let’s name him Diego!” and thank God the women go “no” (laughs). If not, the whole of Latin America would be named Diego Maradona! Football is something that I grew up watching, my husband [Marco Perego] used to be a soccer player and now there’s even more soccer in our lives, my brother-in-law was from England and he’s a devout soccer fan so there’s a lot of soccer from one house to another. You should see our Whatsapp, that’s all we ever talk about! Never thought I would do this, but I’m passionate about soccer!

  

On Guard! Guardians of the Galaxy in Singapore

For F*** Magazine

ON GUARD! THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY IN SINGAPORE
By Jedd Jong for F*** Magazine 11/7/14
Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong

Here in Singapore, we’re hooked on a feeling and high on believing after director James Gunn and stars Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista journeyed from the furthest reaches of the cosmos to our sunny shores. The Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference was held on Thursday, 10 July at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre. Before that, we were treated to a tantalising 17 minute preview of the film in IMAX 3D. The sequence showcased the titular team after they had just been formed and flung into a space prison called The Kyln. Packed with humour, action and attitude, it was an exciting way to whet the appetite for what Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has called “the riskiest movie I have made since Iron Man.”

The titular team consists of a thief, an assassin, two thugs and a blade-wielding psycho. “I’m going to be arrested for inviting such company to peaceful Singapore,” host Glenn Ong remarked. Gunn, Saldana and Bautista took to the stage at the press conference to the strains of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, one of the songs on Star-Lord’s “awesome mix tape”.


Right off the bat, director Gunn took charge, opening with “look how pretty Zoe Saldana looks…and look how pretty Dave Bautista looks too!” The director, known for his background in edgy, low-budget cult horror flicks, let his eccentric side show when he commented that Marc Quinn’s giant baby sculpture, residing in the Gardens by the Bay, as his “favourite thing I’ve ever seen in [his] entire life”. When asked about the humorous tone of the film, Gunn said “I think that really Guardians of the Galaxy is about characters. I think that these characters are in and of themselves funny, so it wasn’t so much a matter of me trying to pack in the comedy, it was just letting these characters and these actors here fully express themselves so that the humour was able to come out in a natural way.”

When Ong reminded all present not to broach personal questions, Gunn sportingly leapt in with “You can ask personal questions of me – ask about my personal life, my love life, my cat, I’m an open book, ask away! I’ll give you all the gory details,” to uproarious laughter.


Turning to pro wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista, Ong jokingly said to the 1.98 m tall man, “thank you so much for increasing the average height of people in Singapore, for this week at least”.

Bautista said he still finds his fame and recognition “weird”. “I don’t know man, I think inside I feel like such a normal guy and also somewhat of an introvert too,” he said softly.
“Yes, he’s very shy,” co-star Saldana confirmed.

Commenting on playing a physical brute, Bautista observed “that’s always been the easy part for me. I’m a physical guy, working out is kind of my thing, it’s my release and my therapy, so physically it wasn’t as tough as it was as just stretching myself as an actor. It’s all kind of new to me, it’s such a large role, stepping on stage with some of the best and most talented people in the world, actors and directors, it was challenging.”
Elaborating on the character of Drax, Bautista said “he’s always described as this warrior who’s hell-bent on rage, I always say ‘no, at the core of Drax, Drax is heartbroken over the murder of his family and he’s just this very vulnerable guy.’ Very literal, and there’s that insane side, that sociopath side – I don’t think Drax knows it’s wrong to kill people,” he laughed. “Actually, he’s got a heart that’s bigger than his brain, he’s a very noble character and his core is his heart.”

It became very clear that Bautista was a surprisingly sweet, shy person behind his musclebound exterior. When a reporter asked if he shed a few tears upon receiving the news that he would play Drax, Bautista replied “It was true. I literally broke down, it wasn’t a few tears! I was driving…I literally just broke down, I drove home, I was a mess…It was a big deal to me, I can never explain how big it was to me, it was a life-changing moment.” He confessed that the transition from wrestling to acting was far from an easy one. “My first acting gig, I did as a favour for a friend and I realised two things: one of was how hard it was and two was that I loved it, I wanted to pursue it. There’s just not a lot of similarities, the only similarity is that cameras are pointed at you and that’s all it is. Wrestling is so broad, so conversational and acting is so much more intimate and intimidating!”



He continued, “It was hard for me to leave behind wrestling, and I worked and struggle, worked and struggled and auditioned I finally got the dream role of a lifetime, it was like make or break, I pretty lost everything I gained while wrestling, I lost it all because I took a chance on myself because I was passionate to pursue it. So it was worth a few tears, I broke down. It meant that much to me.”

Gunn was moved by Bautista’s earnestness. “From the beginning, sometimes you meet actors that you really like as people and you really want to get them the role but they aren’t right for the role, you give the role to the person who deserves the role and from the moment I met Dave, he and I have a sort of connection. Within minutes of talking, I kind of liked Dave and I liked him so much as a person that I was rooting for him to come through, through a series of screen tests and a lot of different things he had to go through to try and get the role, and when he proved himself to be by far, the only person we ever thought of for the role was Dave Bautista despite some stuff that the press might have said, Dave was the only person we offered the role to because he was the best. Dave actually was that good, it was touching for me and I say this of all the cast: they’re people whom I really like as people, but they’re also the best people for the role.”


Zoe Saldana said she had stayed up all night to watch the World Cup semi-finals game and was overjoyed that Argentina emerged victorious. In spite of this, she looked alert and radiant. Even though she was contacted directly by Gunn for the part instead of having to go through multiple auditions, she still found it a nerve-wracking experience. “The first thing you feel is flattered, super-blessed, your ego gets a little peaked a lot, but the second thought is absolute panic because if you say ‘yes’, there’s a lot of expectations lying on your shoulders because work that you’ve done before has [been] brought [to] the attention of this awesome director and he’s relying on you delivering what he’s seen you deliver before, which he thought was so cool.”

Saldana was hesitant given the demanding nature of the role, but decided to leap right into it. “ I was a little nervous when they said yes, and then they told me about the 5.5 hours of makeup every day, and then they told me about the shooting it for five months and we were going to be shooting it for six day weeks, and there was going to be a lot of action and fighting and rehearsals and then I said ‘okay, yes’. I kind of went ‘okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!’ because I didn’t want to realise what I was getting myself into but it ended up being a great experience, because it had everything that I grew up wanting movies to have: it had action, it had comedy, it had a lot of imagination and the story was really complete and all the characters had such a beautiful journey from beginning to the end individually, but also as a collective, and I thought ‘this is a great ensemble picture to be part of’.”

On being the only female member of the Guardians, Saldana said “It feels great, it’s empowering because I know that it delivers a very strong message to young women that besides being beautiful and delicate flowers, that you can also channel your strength and not be afraid of it. It’s very rewarding when you know you can climb a tree, or you can grab a weapon, even though we’re in the world of make-believe, you can see yourself kind of doing all these things and you feel very empowered.” She was grateful that she was not alone – Gamora has a fearsome adopted sister whom she clashes with. “I’m actually very happy to say that I’m not the only female in this cast and Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, did an amazing job and it’s really great to know that I was sharing screen time with not only amazing male actors, but also with another female actress because sometimes being the only female actress can be a little lonely.”

Gunn chimed in with “Karen and Zoe were a lot of fun to watch on set because they had a huge fight scene, with these two super-powered females fighting each other, and it was like two female Clint Eastwoods battling it out and duelling and all of a sudden I would yell ‘cut!’ and they would go ‘tee-hee hee hee! Hee hee hee hee!’”

Gunn was given the job of taking the wild and woolly Guardians and making them movie stars to stand alongside their better-known Marvel counterparts. “I feel like because Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, they are not quite as well-known as say Captain America, Iron Man or the Avengers, I felt like that gave us a lot of freedom to really create the cinematic version of Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that Guardians of the Galaxy is more at home on screen than in the comic books, and it is first and foremost a cinematic property, so I felt like it really gave me a lot of freedom to do something interesting with it and create loveable characters.”

Ong did a double take. “Did you just say ‘loveable’?”

“Yeah, they’re ‘a bunch of a-holes’ but they’re still loveable characters, even Drax!” Gunn affirmed.
Marvel movie fans have wanted to know the extent of Avengers director Joss Whedon’s involvement with Guardians, and Gunn confirmed “Joss and I have been friends for a long time, he read the script and gave me notes on the script, and the biggest note he gave was to make it ‘more James Gunn’. And I said ‘it’s your funeral’.” The character of Thanos, who first appeared in the mid-credits stinger scene in The Avengers and who is a major player in Guardians (played by Josh Brolin) is a figure who will link the earth-based Marvel movies and the “Marvel Cosmic” ones. “I pretty much had free rein and it wasn’t so much about making this movie lead somewhere but it was about creating a great foundation so that it could lead somewhere, you don’t want to just have ‘fill in the dots’, we want to create something that has substance that we can believe in it, that’s really exciting and real and true. Then it gives a lot of the fans some of the answers [that] we leave unanswered so that there are places to go, for the Guardians to go in future,” said Gunn.



Gunn maintained that he was given a satisfactory degree of freedom from the Marvel Studios higher-ups. “I pretty much do what I believe [in] and I don’t approach a small movie like Slither or Super any differently than I approach a big movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. I do everything I can with my heart, as true as I possibly can, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career thus far to have producers like [at] Marvel to let me have free rein and do something really creative and excellent even though it’s for such a large budget.”
Guardiansis really about a group of outcasts, a group of people who feel like they don’t belong, coming together, finding something within themselves that they didn’t know was there – something heroic, something wonderful and very simply something good,” Gunn said pithily. “And I think what the movie is about includes all of us, no matter what country you’re from, no matter what part of the world you’re from, the love of ourselves and each other and finding the good within ourselves. And if there’s anything that makes this movie worthwhile and worth spending two years of our lives doing nothing else but this film, is for people to be able to walk out of the theatre feeling a little better about themselves, feeling a little better about the person they were sitting next to in the theatre and feeling a little better about the world in general.”

James Gunn couched Guardians of the Galaxy as a movie made by outcasts, about outcasts and for outcasts. “I think one of the things about Guardians of the Galaxy is it’s about this group of oddballs, outcasts who are plucked from obscurity in Marvel Comics and turned into these big movie stars, and I think that we’ve talked about this a lot, that we all feel like that. My last movie cost $3 million, it was an independent film, Dave is a wrestler whom people didn’t think of as a real actor, Zoe has been pushed to the sidelines for her whole life because she’s a person of colour from a place that not everybody is from in this industry, Chris Pratt was a chubby guy when he got this role, Vin Diesel’s a weirdo, Benicio del Toro’s a weirdo and the biggest weirdo of all was Michael Rooker. We were just a group of oddballs and outcasts and came together to make this movie and made something we all feel really good about. The parallels are very interesting to me all the time and I think we all feel this way, that through the process we’ve come to love each other. You’ll hear us all talk about how much we love each other and you hear this on all movies. The thing is, usually they’re lying but this time, it’s true,” he concluded to applause. 



Saldana said what was on everyone’s minds: “part 2, everybody!”

We definitely like the Guardians enough to want to see more – like the Jackson 5, we want them back!

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in Singapore on 31 July 2014.