The world is good, Disney is good! James Gunn has officially been rehired as director of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3! What a time to be alive!
It’s crazy to think that Gunn was fired from Vol. 3 in July of last year – it’s been eight months. It feels more recent than that.
But what feels like eons ago was a Marvel Cinematic Universe without Guardians of the Galaxy. The first movie debuted in 2014, almost five years ago. (Though anything that happened in American media before the 2016 election cycle might as well have been a thousand years ago.) Once again, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had something that wasn’t a sure thing – probably since Iron Man. Everyone knew who Thor was, everyone knew who Captain America was – people would go see their movies. And once that groundwork was laid, The Avengers wasn’t as big of a risk as we might remember. But in 2013, as we were seeing trailers and concept art for this new movie called Guardians of the Galaxy – which was based off of a more obscure comic series than the others – we asked the same question that Thor would ask in Infinity War – “Who the hell are you guys?”
But it ended up being one of the biggest hits of 2014. When you ask people what are their favorite of the 20 MCU movies, Guardians of the Galaxy will come up frequently. It was funny and fun, but still managed to hit some major emotional beats. Sure, it tonally still felt like the MCU, and we saw characters like Thanos and the Collector; but it felt like a totally new world. It integrated a great soundtrack made up of 70’s and 80’s classic rock and had a unique visual style as well as great comedic writing and great comedic performances.
The MCU kept on rolling, and Guardians was followed by Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange, and finally, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Between being just as funny, visually delightful, and hitting greater emotional beats anchored by a better villain than just about any of the MCU movies, Vol. 2 was seen as just as good if not better than the movie that came before it.
There are a handful of really good video essays about what makes the Guardians of the Galaxy series a real triumph that stands out against the rest of the MCU films, including the above one by Lindsay Ellis. In his second video breaking down the limitations of the MCU, Patrick Willems said “These stories have actually growth and change, death and sacrifice. They commit to exploring their themes. They have weight. They make strong aesthetic choices and have a real style and personality. They’re imaginative and funny and the characters grow from movie to movie.” And the primary force behind that is director James Gunn, who brought his vision to the big screen and into the hearts of millions.
There’s a lot of background behind his firing, which most of you reading this blog probably know, but I’ll recap anyway.
In July of last year, Alt-Right news outlet Daily Caller unearthed old tweets from James Gunn circa 2008 which made some absolutely disgusting jokes on a wide variety of awful topics. (If you want to find them, you can find them, but I won’t post them here.) They weren’t specifically outraged by these tweets, but unearthed them with the goal of getting James Gunn fired from Guardians because he was a vocal opponent of President Trump. Initially Disney fell for it, and Gunn was publicly fired from the film.
Then there was a huge outpouring of support for him. There was a letter of support from the Guardians cast. Actor Dave Bautista who plays Drax separately said he would not be in Vol. 3 if Gunn wasn’t directing, passionately tweeting “What will you do when the #cybernazis [the Alt-Right] attack you?”
But perhaps the most passionate came from a Twitter thread by Guardians actor Sean Gunn, brother of director James.
“The struggle to find that voice was sometimes clunky, misguided, or downright stupid, and sometimes wonderful, moving, and hilarious. … Since devoting his entire life to the Guardians movies and MCU six years ago, I’ve seen him channel that voice into his work on those movies and seen him transform from the guy who made up things to shock people. I saw firsthand as he went from worrying about “softening his edge” for a larger audience to realizing that his “edge” wasn’t as useful of a tool as he thought it was. That his gift for storytelling was something better. … In many respects this change in my brother was reflected in the change that the Guardians go through. I’ve heard my brother say many times that when Quill rallies the team with “this is our chance to give a shit”–to care–that it’s the pep talk he himself needed to hear. It’s part of what made working on the Guardians movies such a rewarding experience for the cast, myself included. We managed to find ourselves involved in a big-budget superhero movie that was, at its core, deeply personal. That’s a gift. And that’s why it’s good.”
And now, it seems that James Gunn’s redemption arc has reached its peak. He has grown, just as his characters have grown, into a more mature and sympathetic person. As Sean Gunn points out the relationship between the director and the characters, it feels all the more earned that Gunn will again be at the helm for the third Guardians movie. At last, he is back directing this wonderful franchise, and I am beyond excited.