James Gunn and Craig Mazin collaborated on “The Specials,” a unique superhero comedy film released in 2000. This movie marked Mazin’s directorial debut and featured Gunn’s involvement as the writer, co-producer, and actor.
“The Specials” portrayed a dysfunctional, lesser-known superhero team, following their turbulent experiences in a partial mockumentary style. The ensemble cast included Rob Lowe, Paget Brewster, and Thomas Haden Church, among others, navigating a day of events that included recruiting a new member, a disastrous product launch, and a betrayal, all within the superhero context.
The film’s acerbic wit, as seen in the dialogue and character dynamics, showcased Gunn’s early prowess in creating engaging interactions among flawed characters. The portrayal of characters grappling with desires for fame, wealth, and coolness mirrored the filmmakers’ own aspirations in the movie industry, offering a satirical commentary on commercial pop culture.
While “The Specials” showcased barbed cynicism toward pop culture and superheroes, akin to later works like “The Boys,” it differed in being less bloody and more hapless. The film humanized superheroes by exploring their insecurities and flaws, echoing themes later evident in Gunn’s works such as “Super,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “The Suicide Squad.”
However, the humor in “The Specials” might feel dated, reflecting the late-’90s era with chauvinistic and potentially problematic elements, a characteristic that Gunn himself acknowledged in the film’s commentary. He highlighted the contrast in vision between himself and Mazin regarding the film’s style, with Gunn favoring a more anarchic approach while Mazin leaned towards a deadpan presentation with documentary-like elements.
Ultimately, after “The Specials,” Mazin went on to direct the acclaimed HBO series “Chernobyl,” showcasing his transition from satire to intense drama, and is currently involved in the production of “The Last of Us” TV series. Meanwhile, Gunn continued his journey through sequels and licensed works, transitioning from this original project to films like the live-action “Scooby-Doo.”