James Gunn Returns To Guardians 3: What it means for Marvel AND DC

Well this was unexpected…

Film Twitter experienced a whirlwind of controversy late last year, when director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Super) came under fire due to a series of old, but extremely insensitive jokes posted from his Twitter. While Gunn had apologized for the jokes many years earlier, and vowed that he was a changed man whose strived to be a better person everyday, the old tweets were re-exposed in 2018 as Gunn became a political target due to his outspoken condemnation of the current White House administration. This manufactured controversy as a means to tarnish Gunn’s reputation resulted in him being fired as director from the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. What transpired afterwards was a vigorous campaign, led most prominently by actor Dave Bautista, to get Gunn re-hired. However, those protests proved futile as all indications pointed towards Disney, specifically chairman Alan Horn, sticking to their decision to remove Gunn from Marvel.

That was until last week, as Deadline reported on Friday that Alan Horn finally had a change of heart, and decided to reinstate the much maligned filmmaker. This, of course, has sent shock waves throughout the film world. What was seen as a shut case, has been completely upended, justifying the months of #RehireJamesGunn hashtags, and very public and very loud ultimatums from Bautista. The elation with Gunn’s return is two-fold. On one hand, the fact that second chances can exist in a company that is as perpetually obsessed with image as the Walt Disney conglomerate is re-affirming to a variety of people. On an entertainment level, Gunn is perhaps matched only by Joss Whedon as having the clearest voice, vision, and influence on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Guardians films are fan favorites that connect with audiences on a personal level. The music, the humor, the character interactions, and Gunn’s own personal idiosyncracies have made the Guardians of the Galaxy a unique arm of the seemingly assembly line MCU. Of course another director could have come in and mimicked Gunn’s style, but it would it feel the same?

Fortunately, we no longer have to worry about a weird 3rd film in the franchise that feels disjointed from the previous two. Gunn will return and likely direct the script that was already completed before his dismissal last fall. Which begs the question, how does this affect not only the MCU, but also the amorphous DCEU? You may recall that in the aftermath of his firing, Gunn bolted to the other team, signing on as screenwriter and eventually director of Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad sequel. That sequel is currently scheduled for an August 6th, 2021 release date.

Per the Deadline report, Disney will allow Gunn to complete work on the DC sequel before production on Guardians 3 commences. This may be a best case scenario for Gun, but could push the 3rd installment all the way back to a 2022 release date at the earliest. Vol. 2 was released in 2017, which would make for a five-year gap between sequels. This isn’t the first long gap between Marvel sequels, as four years separates Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. In addition, the long gap between sequels may even increase the hype among fans in what could be the final solo film for the Guardians. But that’s all minutiae that Disney will have to work out in time. What is most curious about Gunn’s return is how involved will Gunn be in Marvel’s Phase 4?

See, prior to last year’s controversy, Gunn was a huge cornerstone of not only the MCU’s present, but it’s intended future. Gunn was trusted with helping to shepherd the cosmic side of the MCU. It was also assumed that he would potentially direct more films in the franchise once he wrapped on his Guardians trilogy. What Gunn’s return does not tell us, at least not yet, is if he will resume the crucial role he once had at Marvel Studios. This is purely speculation at this point, but it’s certainly possible that Disney is only bringing Gunn back to finish his trilogy in an effort to quell any negative press a 3rd Guardians may endure. Thus, his return to Marvel would start and end with that film. If that’s the case, I think Disney could be unintentionally aiding their greatest competitors. I argued in October that DC’s acquisition of Gunn was a sign of a greater company wide movement to deepen the filmmaking talent Warner Bros. used to helm the DCEU. So far, the biggest difference between the MCU and DCEU has been the critical and audience reception, but directors such as Gunn, James Wan, and Patty Jenkins are in position to reverse that tide.

It would ultimately be short-sighted for Alan Horn to only bring Gunn back in for one final gig, without using his unique talents and vision to help develop the MCU’s future. Such a move would likely result in Gunn taking a commanding role in the direction of the DCEU. It’s for this reason alone that I suspect Gunn will not only be directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but he will also be team Marvel for the foreseeable future. With mega properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four soon coming to the MCU, and with obscure but potentially lucrative films such as Thunderbolts on the table, it’s in Disney’s best interest to keep Gunn in their stable.

As for what this all means in the short-term, it’s a massive win for fans of the MCU and specifically the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. There is not a currently ongoing series of films in the MCU that features a bigger personal hand print from its director than the Guardians films. For all the criticisms of how silly the films can be, it’s undeniable that Gunn has his finger on the pulse of a large portion of the fan base who find his films touching and his characters entertainingly bizarre and relatable. These are films about heavily flawed people coming together to better themselves. What better story than to see Gunn, who has shown growth from a very immature period in his life, return to his most successful work after the cast, crew, and fans of said property fought so vigorously to get him back due to the man they believed him to be today, rather that who he was all those years ago. Not even Gunn could script it better.

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