Guardians of the Galaxy 3 might not go ahead - and that's a good thing for James Gunn and the MCU

James Gunn is probably done with Disney, that much we know. But the rest of it: Guardians of the Galaxy 3’s future, what comes next for James Gunn, and how the MCU reacts around the paradigm shift of losing a key voice (and potentially key characters) is up for some serious debate. Disney – and Marvel – can counteract that in one fell swoop, however: scrap Guardians of the Galaxy 3. Not only will it offer a clean slate for the Marvel Universe, but it’ll let James Gunn and all parties involved move on from this whole sorry affair. Sure, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but here’s why it could work.

Would Guardians of the Galaxy 3 even work without James Gunn?

Maybe it’s time to face facts. Guardians of the Galaxy 3 will never quite be what you want it to be following James Gunn’s firing. The actors’ hearts likely wouldn’t be in it, a debate will rage for time eternal about what was/wasn’t touched by James Gunn in the final cut and, if we’re being brutally honest, the prior movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, might be indicative of a franchise that was already rapidly running out of ideas. Barely a single piece of discourse surrounding Guardians 3 will be about the actual movie, and any replacement director would have a terribly hard time making their mark. The film would bring potential for the kind of PR disaster Marvel is obviously looking to avoid and, for the movie-going public, it would offer up carte-blanche for a level of nit-picking that’d make even Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s backlash seem tame in comparison.

Anyway, do we really need a Guardians 3? The story is over. The mystery behind Star-Lord’s parents has been revealed, Avengers: Infinity War dealt with Gamora and Star-Lord’s fledgling relationship, and Avengers 4 will inevitably deal with repairing any fractures the group has suffered through. Where next? Let me guess. Space?

Besides, who really wants a Gunn-less Guardians movie? This is his baby and, like it or not, his departure should spell the end of that particular sub-franchise. It was highly unlikely we were going past Guardians of the Galaxy 3 anyway, so why not pull the trigger early and avoid an all-round messy outcome? That way, Disney isn’t hit in the pocket, some goodwill can be preserved with James Gunn and the cast, and, maybe, the MCU could salvage a win from an unwinnable situation.

The Guardians can be of better use away from their core storyline

Not having Guardians of the Galaxy 3 doesn’t mean we’d be saying goodbye to Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot, and Mantis. They can simply exist elsewhere. In fact, if, as Kevin Feige has stated in the past, MCU’s Phase 4 will look to the stars, then what better way to kickstart the cosmic side of the MCU by having the Guardians anchored to a new franchise, almost guaranteeing a box-office smash?

Look at Spider-Man: Homecoming for inspiration. In that film, we had a relatively unknown actor in Tom Holland coupled with a franchise in Spider-Man that had come off nearly a decade of rocky movies, by way of two separate reboots. In isolation, it was a risky film. But all of that was all fixed in one moment by introducing Iron Man into the mix. Stark’s inclusion instantaneously cemented Homecoming as part of the MCU, no ifs, no buts. By having Star-Lord (or whomever) chucked into the Eternals, Infinity Watch, or an Adam Warlock standalone movie, the stakes are immediately upped, and audiences are invested. We’d have beloved characters helping prop up the new generation, in much the same way Robert Downey Jr. and, by extension, his character, mentored Tom Holland through Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Do directors now have control?

But that’s a story for another day. Away from the actuality of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and whether or not the Guardians show up elsewhere, James Gunn’s firing may be a blessing in disguise for directors further down the line. It’s clear now that Disney and the MCU isn’t the peak.

Much like the success of Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) and the Russo brothers (Winter Soldier, Civil War, and Infinity War) will allow them to do bigger and greater things away from Marvel in the future, it’s clear from the reaction to Gunn’s dismissal that directors’ popularity isn’t intrinsically tied to Disney, and that film-makers can use the MCU to build their own individual followings. Gone are the days of Disney/Marvel bringing in directors for a one-and-done cookie-cutter comic book movie. Each director’s personality now reigns supreme and, because of the emphasis on each person behind the camera, each now seems to enjoy a great deal of creative control. Gunn’s firing is proof that Disney (and Marvel) aren’t infallible and - depending on the ultimate outcome for Guardians 3 - may prove that the MCU needs its directors more than some of those directors need it. It could be a chastening wake-up call for all involved.

All of this makes James Gunn’s next project massive, too. The unnamed 2018 horror movie on the way from Gunn (via Sony) will now have far more eyes on it. And if it does well, then great. Through the controversy of Gunn’s firing, Disney will have inadvertently hyped up a fresh, original new genre flick that might not have found as big an audience otherwise. That can only be a good thing. The MCU, as much as it might like to be, is not a bubble environment. It affects other movies and genres and, while it can rule the roost and hush all but the finest of triple-A blockbusters, it’s accidentally instigated a role reversal here. One in which people who might have been invested in a Gunn-directed Guardians of the Galaxy 3 may now turn their attention to something new entirely. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a win/win for fans and the movie industry, even if Marvel takes a short-term hit. 

In an ideal world, we’d all get to sit down and watch James Gunn’s vision for Guardians of the Galaxy 3 in 2019. But that isn’t happening. Instead, it’s about time to come to terms with a changing landscape, one in which the Guardians can herald in a new generation of heroes instead of being tied to a slowly-stagnating MCU sub-story that could be further challenged without Gunn in charge. Gunn, too, can move on, and get fans invested in something different. Something new. 

Beyond that, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But if Disney uses the the recent upset to shake things up - to make a clean break from existing release schedules, and avoid hiring a director to go through the motions on a obligation threequel - then we could get a healthy result out of this. Something different, and unexpected, even. That’s a little bit exciting, isn’t it?

Bradley Russell

I'm the Senior Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, focusing on news, features, and interviews with some of the biggest names in film and TV. On-site, you'll find me marveling at Marvel and providing analysis and room temperature takes on the newest films, Star Wars and, of course, anime. Outside of GR, I love getting lost in a good 100-hour JRPG, Warzone, and kicking back on the (virtual) field with Football Manager. My work has also been featured in OPM, FourFourTwo, and Game Revolution.