BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Despite its flawless superhero pedigree, there's always been apprehension about "Guardians of the Galaxy."
Since the president of Marvel Studios first teased the possibility of making a movie based on the comic book about a team of intergalactic do-gooders, the proposition has been called risky — by critics, by fans and by Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige himself. That never mattered to writer-director James Gunn, the horror maven best known for 2006's "Slither."
"I could care less whether people think it's risky," Gunn said matter-of-factly earlier this month while reclining in a cushy black chair in a screening room on the Disney lot. It's the same intimate theater where Gunn recently finished work on digitizing and colorizing "Guardians," which is set for release Friday.
While the ensemble cosmic romp bears similarities to the superhero mash-up "The Avengers," which earned more than $1.5 billion worldwide, "Guardians" features more obscure characters from the Marvel mythos and — other than a prologue chronicling the moment Chris Pratt's young Peter Quill is plucked from Earth — is set entirely in space.
There's no mention of Captain America, no wink from Tony Stark, no baton passed by Thor.
"In a lot of ways, it's not a superhero movie," said Gunn. "It's a space adventure. We're not just doing the Marvel thing again. It's different. We're expanding the Marvel universe. We're not replicating the Marvel universe in space. We're going about it in a different way." Gunn paused and reclined back further in his chair. "Yeah, it's probably risky."
Unlike 2012's "Avengers," which relied on five decades of superhero history and five films to build up its team, Gunn was tasked with not only adapting a comic series that's only a few years old but also establishing comradery among a band of interstellar rebels that includes a lippy raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and a burly alien portrayed by wrestler Dave Bautista.
"It's a challenge because nobody really knows who we are, and the cool thing about that is we're starting from scratch," said Bautista, who plays Drax the Destroyer. "We can make it whatever we want it to be. The possibilities are endless when you're talking about outer space and all these different civilizations. It can go as far as your imagination can go."
The movie's only connections to Marvel's greater cinematic universe are a more detailed look at the all-powerful Infinity Stones, as well as appearances by Thanos, the ginormous alien baddie glimpsed at the end of "Avengers." Gunn had to fight for the brief inclusion of the latter, who was originally envisioned as the film's main villain in a draft by co-writer Nicole Perlman.
"I wanted Thanos in the movie," said Gunn. "I wanted to be attached to 'The Avengers.' Admittedly, Thanos was a giant pain in the (expletive) because I had to talk with ("Avengers" writer-director) Joss Whedon and those guys. That was the one part where there were a lot of discussions. At a certain point, I think everyone just gave up, and we just did what we wanted."
In spite of the risk involved with launching "Guardians," there's apparently also a good deal of faith. Marvel announced at Comic-Con in San Diego last week that a follow-up, which will be written and directed by Gunn, has already been set for 2017, following planned sequels to "Avengers" and "Captain America." Gunn knows which direction he's headed in.
"I'm so glad to have the first one done because I can't wait to do more and not to have to set up as much stuff as I had to set up," said the director. "I have so many things in my head. I really could just live in this universe. Who knows what I'll feel like in a few years, but I know Chris and I have said that we're both happy just doing this right now."