Fans geek out whenever James Gunn’s name is murmured. He is the Hollywood wunderkind who reshaped the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Guardians of the Galaxy, before jumping over to DC and injecting his unique kitsch into their universe with his take on The Suicide Squad.
For some, the switch from his family-friendly Guardians and its sequel to the ultra-violent assault of The Suicide Squad may be confronting, but those who have followed his career will see it more as a homecoming.
Let us backtrack to some of the pivotal moments of Gunn’s 25-year career, which all began at Troma Entertainment, that trashy independent production company responsible for launching the careers of people like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Oliver Stone, Marisa Tomei and Vincent D’Onofrio amongst many others.
Gunn wrote and co-directed one of Troma’s most iconic and seminal films to date, Tromeo & Juliet (1996), which turned Shakespeare’s beloved play into a grotty, punk-infused fairytale. The film garnered a cult following and pushed Gunn into the Hollywood spotlight.
Although his next step was directly into La La Land, he has remained loyal to Troma throughout the years, not only co-authoring the essential filmmaking handbook All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger alongside Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman, but also giving Kaufman cameos in all of his films as director (including The Suicide Squad).
Gunn’s departure from Troma saw him write the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie in 2002, followed by the less successful Scooby-Doo 2 (2004), which he also produced. That same year he also wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake, Zack Snyder’s own directorial debut, which proved to be a defining moment in pop cultural history, with both creatives going on to become the most powerful voices within the Marvel and DC franchises, respectively.
He would make two highly respected independent films before signing on to Disney’s payroll, the first of which was his directorial debut Slither (2006). This love letter to the sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s, such as The Blob and Them, is the hilariously gory story about a town being overrun by killer alien slugs and also begat an ongoing collaboration with actors Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion.
Next was the R-rated sleeper hit Super (2010), the movie which undoubtedly instilled confidence amongst the Marvel scouts. Starring Rainn Wilson, it’s the twisted tale of ‘Crimson Bolt’, an unskilled superhero who takes on crime without any superhuman abilities. Not only did the film showcase Gunn’s distinct cinematic voice, but it solidified him as one of the new wave auteurs whose indie filmmaking upbringing informs everything he does.
With The Belko Experiment (2016) and Brightburn (2019) amongst other films he has written and produced, there is no denying Gunn is a prolific talent. And with the messy circumstances in which he left Marvel for DC, before returning to Marvel, only to announce that he will now pinball between the two, he has found himself in a unique and influential position, whereby the direction of these rival cinematic universes may be determined by whatever movie he chooses to make next.
• The Suicide Squad is in cinemas now (where open).