Our long national nightmare is over! Deadline reported yesterday, and everyone confirmed soon after, that Walt Disney changed their mind about that whole “firing James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” thing. After abruptly and suddenly firing the filmmaker this past July following the unearthing of some off-colour tweets from his Troma days (jokes concerning, among other things, pedophilia), the film has been in flux. It was never officially cancelled, but it was delayed indefinitely and most certainly was not going to be the (presumed) Phase Four premiere MCU flick in May of 2020. Dave Bautista threatened to walk, the entire cast signed a “round robin” letter of disapproval and the Internet at large all had their say one way or another.
The hand-wringing was partially about who unearthed those tweets, namely (among others) known Pizzagate conspiracy peddler and rape apologist Mike Cernovich in an act of political retaliation. At the time, it looked like the biggest media company on earth, which is about to own Fox as well, had made a major creative decision on impulse and via the machinations of known bad actors of (arguably) disagreeable politics. Whether those old jokes constituted a fire-able offence, the issue was that the Mouse House had allowed some very not nice/arguably hypocritical people to claim a very prominent scalp from the great and powerful Walt Disney. After months of being unable to find a replacement director, Gunn is back in the director’s chair. Peace in our time?
The only person who didn’t really speak up was Gunn himself, who essentially stated (more or less) “I disagree with their decision but defend Disney’s right to make it.” That’s partially what led to him getting rehired, along with the deluge of high-profile MCU folk who voiced their support, Disney’s inability to find a person willing to take over the project (whether or not they looked is open to speculation) and (presumably) wanting to appear, on the eve of the Fox takeover, not able to be swayed by keyboard bullies with an axe to grind. Whatever the case, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now a lot more likely to happen than it was 24 hours ago, with Gunn being allowed to finish his trilogy.
This is a little more complicated than they might seem. Since the film got delayed, it will no longer be the “season premiere” movie for Marvel’s post-Avengers Endgame saga. Unless Disney is able to offer new pre-GotGv3 MCU movies that don’t necessarily further along the big story and thus can wait until 2021 or 2022 before launching what would have been the big cosmic narrative begun by Guardians Vol. 3, then the movie will have to be rejiggered a little bit compared to whatever the story was going to be prior to last summer. While not a fatal blow, it highlights to what extent Walt Disney shot themselves in the foot with their biggest IP rather than initially taking a moment to evaluate the situation.
Oh, and after being tossed out of the MCU, James Gunn found himself working for DC Films. Yes, Gunn was hired by Warner Bros. to write and direct The Suicide Squad, a sequel/soft-reboot to David Ayer’s financially successful ($745 million on a $175m budget) but critically-trashed supervillain ensemble flick. This was ironic hiring since the first Suicide Squad was seen at the time as DC’s attempts to mimic the success of Guardians of the Galaxy. To a certain extent it did, since the movie made about as much as the first Guardians ($333m/$773m in 2014) on a similar budget. Either James Gunn ditches Suicide Squad 2 and sticks with Guardians 3 or he ends up directing both potentially similar comic book superhero sequels.
As of now, Gunn will allegedly do both movies and Disney is letting him do Suicide Squad before Guardians of the Galaxy. Even if that happens, Disney has still succeeded in undercutting the DC Films sequel. The Suicide Squad movie (which sees Idris Elba replacing Will Smith and a mostly new crew of DCU baddies joining Task Force X) was a big deal partially so because it was James Gunn bringing his brand to DC Films. With Gunn back to helm Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Suicide Squad can’t help but look like a lesser movie. Not unlike Paramount/Viacom’s Star Trek reboot flaming out after Star Wars returned, it’s hard to get too excited for the pretender when the genuine article comes back to town.
DC Films may be in a position in August of 2021 where The Suicide Squad is not a do-or-die project. I’m not allowed to talk about Shazam yet, but I may be taking my older kids to that nationwide sneak preview next Saturday. So the extent to which James Gunn returning to “Guardians of the Galaxy Classic” will be a potential blow to “Diet Guardians of the Galaxy” will be proportional to how healthy of a brand DC Films happens to be after Shazam, Joker, Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman 1984 and The Batman. Whether by coincidence or design, Disney’s rehiring of Gunn has not only turned a loss into a possible win but undercut what might have been a win for its biggest rival.
The other result of this, combined with Captain Marvel (which may cross $700 million worldwide today), is that the MCU does not really need the X-Men or Fantastic Four characters to juice up the post-Avengers Endgame line-up. Captain Marvel showed that the MCU can propel a new franchise built around a new character, even one that gets merely “pretty good” reviews, too (maybe) $400m-plus domestic and (probably) $1 billion-plus worldwide. Marvel’s unofficial Phase Four dance card filling up pretty quickly with the likes of Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, Guardians 3, Eternals, Black Widow and Shang-Chi among others. The ability to position Dr. Doom and Galactus as new big bads (or Goose’s henchmen) notwithstanding, there is little urgency to plop the X-Men into the MCU continuity.
Even with the MCU scheduling now out of whack, it’s nice that the Mouse House swallowed their pride and undid an unforced error, especially considering the source of the controversy. If Disney/Fox is really going to control theatrical moviegoing (with only Warner Bros. and Universal putting up a fair fight) and be one of the three biggies in the streaming wars (Disney versus Amazon versus Netflix), then it’s useful to know that they won’t get tricked into self-sabotage at the whims on an online pundit or two. eight months after he was fired, James Gunn will (again) write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. If this does any damage to The Suicide Squad, then it’ll again be a scenario where Disney wins even for losing.