Back in September 2013 we visited the set of the first Guardians of the Galaxy - and while walking through the props, costume, and art departments to view all of the designs of the alien races to be introduced in Marvel Studios' first cosmic movie, a common topic of discussion was that of which characters and aliens species Marvel is allowed to use, versus those which ones rival studio Fox currently owns the rights to.
The main army of antagonist Ronan the Accuser in Guardians 1 for instance, was meant to be the Badoon - a common main enemy for these heroes from Marvel Comics - but they couldn't be used, so the Sakaaran were introduced instead we were told by writer and director James Gunn. For Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and additional future sequels/spinoffs, there are a few other characters Gunn really wants to use as well but simply cannot.
Funny (or sadly) enough, Gunn took a little fun stab at Fox while talking about the aliens they were and were not allowed to use back then, and this wasn't too long after Marvel tried to get back the rights for Silver Surfer and Galactus from Fox (in an exchange that would have allowed Fox to keep the rights to Daredevil for longer).
James Gunn: There’s Sakaaran, I know it’s okay to say there’s Sakaaran. But yeah, we don’t own Badoon, so there’s Sakaaran. Fox owns—so they’ll probably make them in a… great… movie.
Given the reviews and financial disaster of Fantastic Four, Gunn called it.
Needless to say, no such deal between the studios was made at the time so instead Daredevil was reacquired by Marvel Entertainment and used to help launch Marvel TV's Netflix programming. The rights to the Badoon, Galactus, Silver Surfer, and many other great cosmic characters are still stuck at Fox where they aren't going to be used. And they might not be used at all since their way to the big screen would have come in the Fantastic Four franchise which is totally dead (its sequel canceled) at this point. Perhaps there's still hope for the X-Men to go cosmic as hinted at by X-Men: Apocalypse director Bryan Singer.
When asked over the weekend during a Facebook Q&A with fans on if he would try to get Marvel to work with Fox on getting rights to those Fantastic Four characters (like The Thing who's in the latest version of the GOTG comics) to use in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Gunn responded:
"I probably wouldn't add Ben Grimm to the Guardians team even if they were a part of the MCU. And of course I would love for the Fantastic Four to be a part of the MCU, not only because of the Fantastic Four, but because Fox owns so many awesome cosmic villains and minor characters that I would love to play around with like Annihilus who I love. And I think they own Kang [the Conquerer].
So, there are some great characters over there that we don't own and that sucks, but I'm sure Marvel and I would love own Fantastic Four so I wouldn't have to convince anybody."
Annihilus is a big namedrop since he's at the center of what we know as the modern Guardians of the Galaxy. The cosmic-set Annihilation Marvel Comics event brought back Nova, Star-Lord, Gamora, and Drax and set the foundation for the new and modern Guardians of the Galaxy team in 2006, an event which saw Annihilus and his Annihilation wave (think alien bug swarm from another dimension) sweep through the galaxy laying waste to many alien worlds before a group of heroes rose up to stop him. The following year, Annihilation: Conquest (which brought back Groot and Rocket Raccoon) saw many of these heroes together again battling another galactic-level threat, and that second event ended with the launch of the modern Guardians of the Galaxy comic series - all created by writing team Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. It's the writings, storytelling and style these two writers brought to Marvel Comics that served as the inspiration and motivation for the Guardians of the Galaxy film franchise.
With Fox and Disney (which owns Marvel) working together on an Avatar theme park however, and them seemingly sharing December release dates by taking turns with Star Wars and Avatar movies for the next seven years, and knowing on the TV side Fox and Marvel are co-producing a pair of X-Men TV Shows there seems to be an easy way out of this problem. Marvel and Fox can work together in a partnership agreement not unlike what Marvel has with Sony to share Spider-Man, to see them share the Fantastic Four rights in the future. Fox sure as hell isn't going to use them anytime soon, and at least with Marvel's backing, that property can become viable since many of the great modern FF stories involve characters Fox cannot use and vice versa. That's a story we dig into more here if you're interested.
Even if Marvel doesn't need/want the FF heroes or Doctor Doom, they surely want those aliens races and characters that no one is currently using to flesh out the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Galactus and Silver Surfer, just to name two, are major players in many of the big cosmic events. That's the biggest growth opportunity of the MCU and it's limited by rights held by Fox.
Note: The producers of X-Men and Deadpool director Tim Miller are friendly with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and said last week that they are trying to "build bridges" to have Deadpool potentially crossover with the MCU one day...
As for James Gunn and the future of Guardians of the Galaxy. Filming has been underway in Atlanta (where Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War were both shot) for over a month, and goes until June. Gunn hasn't decided yet if he'll do Guardians of the Galaxy 3 - a film that seems almost a certainty to debut early in Phase 4 - but we do know the writer-director will not stray away from the Marvel cosmic should he stick around beyond Phase 3.
"I don't really want to do an Avengers comic. I like working with the cosmic stuff"
This sentiment is something Gunn as emphasized and reiterated time and time again in many of his Q&A sessions over the last year. He has no interest in doing an Avengers movie, no interest in even directing a Star Wars movie. He wants to continue on the Marvel cosmic side and has even hinted at doing a spinoff of Guardians after Vol. 2.
At this point, it's possible that Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is directed by someone else and James Gunn helms another new cosmic property in Phase 4 of the MCU. He just "hasn't decided yet." As for what spinoff that could be, it probably won't be Nova given how the Nova Corps was adapted (in a non-superpowered, standard police force sort of way) in the MCU. Gunn clarified that he holds nothing against Nova but just isn't a fan of his helmet. Speaking of which, during this session he also confirmed that John C. Reilly's Nova character is not in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 which means we may not see Nova Corps at all.
In a question about whether or not he'll have any involvement with Avengers: Infinity War (which will absolutely include Guardians of the Galaxy characters), Gunn said:
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do after Guardians and we've talked about a lot of different situations, but I'm just not sure what I'm gonna do."
If he could add any character not from Marvel Comics to the Guardians of the Galaxy team, Gunn says (and this shouldn't surprise anyone following Gunn on social media) ROM: Spaceknight. That's his favorite comic book character.
And for Marvel fans looking forward to cameos in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, when asked if there any, Gunn replied:
"Very much so."
For Spider-Man fans looking forward to seeing Tom Holland's Peter Parker in Civil War and his own solo movie next year, don't count on seeing Venom anytime soon. Gunn says moviegoers "probably" won't see Venom in future Guardians movies (Agent Venom was in the Marvel NOW! Guardians team). He's not even sure if Marvel can use Venom which is interesting if true, since recent reports revealed Sony may be developing a standalone non-MCU live-action Venom movie which would complicate things since Spider-Man is the MCU.
Stay tuned for more Spidey, Guardians, and Phase 3 news as it breaks!
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange– November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1– May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans – July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
Source: James Gunn
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