James Gunn recently revealed that he’s writing and directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, causing a wave of cheers among fans who are still waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to arrive. Although that wasn’t the full extent of his massive announcement: he also revealed that the film will "conclude the story of this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy". In a later exclusive interview with Screen Rant, he elaborated on his comments, revealing that the team will be different going forward, which suggests that Vol. 3 will be a proper finale for Star-Lord and co. Could this mean the end of everyone's favorite space do-gooders?
When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced in 2012, superhero cinema was just recovering from the spectacle of The Avengers and Marvel’s rag-tag space team were unknown to everyone but the most die-hard comic fans. However, thanks to a mixture of impressively pitched marketing and a wildly fun movie, Marvel's "biggest gamble” became one of the studios’ biggest hits; it remains the most successful (both commercially and critically) first installment out of all the MCU sub-franchises, and the sequel seems only set to better that, with excellent box office tracking.
So, despite its D-list origins, Guardians of the Galaxy is a popular, profitable franchise. It’s also one that, due to its distance from the rest of the series’ Earth-bound action, often gets exempted from discussions of superhero fatigue. Why on Knowhere would Marvel want to stop it?
Contracts – The Logistical Reason
Let's first look at the legal stuff. Unlike the Avengers contracts, the number of movies the Guardians are signed up for isn’t common knowledge. However, based on comments made by Chris Pratt, he was originally locked for three solo films and two others (presumably Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4, which the whole team is now confirmed to appear in), meaning that Vol. 3 may actually be the end of the main stars' contracts.
This is no doubt a big part of the ending decision. While the Guardians in the comics are constantly adding new members and altering their dynamic, the MCU’s founding five are who most fans know and love, so moving beyond them would be tricky. Even if there is a movie released titled Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 4, if it doesn't have Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket or Groot then it will be a wholly different beast.
This is something The Avengers will also have to address in some form, given that at least some of the original heroes are sure to be on the way out soon, but there it’s a bit easier to manage – moving beyond Iron Man and Cap will be a hurdle for sure, but most standalone MCU movies are each adding to the team, so there's a massive ensemble besides. Guardians movies are more standalone, so there’s less room for that organic handover. Ending it when the whole team is there means avoiding going into unknown territory, yet smartly doesn’t rule out appearances from continuing characters in other movies a la Hulk, such as the long-mooted Groot standalone. Logistically, an end is a good move studio-side.
A Chance To End Their Story Well
Now to the actual creative reasoning. Going into Vol. 2 knowing that we’re seeing the second part of a finite trilogy is going to be weird (it’s an experience only really had once before in blockbuster history with the Star Wars prequels), but it really shouldn’t be too surprising given Marvel’s usual structure.
Although their characters usually appear in multiple other movies, each of the core MCU sub-franchises have been trilogies; Iron Man followed Tony Stark from weapons-seller to self-assured hero, Captain America charted Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes’ century-long friendship and Thor will presumably round off his choppy relationship with Loki and the throne of Asgard. The approach with these series' has been to use a trilogy of solo films to tell a semi-complete story exploring a core overarching idea behind the hero, but with the understanding that the character can continue outside that in The Avengers films (and in Tony Stark's case beyond). For sure, none of those movies look to be getting sequels anytime soon: now Stark has made the step into franchise glue, Iron Man 4 is not just unlikely but frankly unnecessary; after Chris Evans’ recent comments regarding his future the same is true of Captain America 4 (at least with Steve Rogers at the helm); and it’s not hard to lump Thor 4 in there either. There are outside concerns on why these won't happen, but the fact that - in the former two cases at least - the main story is over is a biggie.
Guardians being a three-part series thus fits the wider scope of the universe, although there are some added creative benefits for this series in particular. For one, James Gunn is going to be the first person to direct all three films in a trilogy – Jon Favreau bailed after Iron Man 2 and the Russos only started Cap on The Winter Soldier – so there’s a sense of creative vision that hasn’t been felt in the genre since Nolan with The Dark Knight Trilogy. While it’s certainly possible the director would have the creative energy and general interest to stick around for more, this allows him to craft a complete story and bow out before clashes begin.
The trilogy ending also allows for Gunn to round off the themes he’s been raising together in a way that’s fitting and complete. For Guardians this is particularly effective as – upon first glance – the ideas being explored are rather basic: it’s essentially an unlikely hero parable. When you take that idea to its full conclusion, complete with an Avengers interlude, though, there’s likely to be hidden threads that turn what was once the silly, self-aware side of the MCU (a franchise that has its fair share of silly moments) into something sprawling and affectionate. In a franchise that could conceivably run forever, the chance of finality is a hard opportunity to pass up.
The MCU’s Cosmic Future
What makes that sense of finality palatable as a fan is that – like Marvel's previous trilogies – the end needn't actually be the end. We may not see certain characters again, but the cosmic arm of the MCU is well and truly here to stay, with Vol. 3 setting up the next decade of adventures. How this is going to work will surely be more apparent after Vol. 2, but with a mixture of new characters being seeded and the possibilities of standalones for main heroes, it's conceivable the direct Guardians legacy can continue even without the parent banner. And that's nothing of the world it's given us.
To begin with, the MCU was overall very grounded, spending ample time establishing the pseudo-science behind the creation of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America as well as clearly stating Thor’s powers as super-advanced science rather than actual magic. Over time this has slowly become more extreme, with aliens in The Avengers and magic in Doctor Strange, and the turning point was well-and-truly the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite the Marvel logo, it was more Star Wars than superhero and took audiences to a crazy place they hadn’t seen thus far. As such, any continuation in this direction is going to owe a debt to Gunn and co. Indeed, while Thor: Ragnarok has strong Kirby influences and Avengers: Infinity War tackles Starlin, from what we’ve seen both movies’ style will be heavily indebted to what Gunn’s done previously.
And this legacy may be why it's best to wrap up. In the immortal words of the decidedly unimmortal Syndrome from The Incredibles, "when everyone's super, no-one will be." The same sentiment is true of weirdness. Assuming Guardians 3 comes in 2020 (a fair bet), it will be six years on from that first experience and in that time the Marvel universe will have completely changed. Star-Lord and Rocket’s bickering will never not be fun and Baby Groot’s cuteness is timeless, but the verve that has made the franchise so strong could become so normalized it turns too familiar and the subject of ridicule like the Iron Man origin formula. That's not to say Guardians movies couldn't evolve - look at how distinct each Captain America movie wound up being - but as with Gunn's drive, to end it at a peak avoids the team getting stale.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be the end of an era for sure - and with many classic Avengers also set to bow out around the same time will be part of a bigger changing of the guard in the MCU - but the possibility of a proper character finale within a sprawling shared universe directed by the man who started it all, as well as the myriad for different storytelling avenues is opens up, make it hard to not approve. We were Groot.
- Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) release date: May 05, 2017
- Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) release date: Jul 07, 2017
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017) release date: Nov 03, 2017
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018