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Rock Out To The Complicated History Behind Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3

At first glance, it can be difficult to ascertain what makes "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" different from other Marvel Studios projects. After all, this is the 32nd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, while the project has been advertised heavily as the titular lead's "final tour," it's doubtful none of these characters or locations will ever be seen again in future Marvel movies. 

But taking a closer look at the history behind "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" makes it apparent that this was never just any ordinary superhero movie. The project faced an enormously tormented road to the big screen, one marked by obstacles with which few other blockbusters have had to contend.

The complicated history of "Vol. 3" is, of course, heavily defined by the firing and subsequent rehiring of writer/director James Gunn, but the behind-the-scenes journey of this movie goes well beyond even just that event. This production's history includes everything from how long Gunn has been formulating ideas for a third "Guardians" movie to the casting process of the new character Adam Warlock to why Gunn was initially hesitant to pursue this sequel. The thorny history of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" is incredibly labyrinthine and reflects a slew of unpredictable hardships. However, it also reflects a deep, burning passion a slew of artists has developed for these cosmic heroes over years of shared turmoil — and their determination to give the characters a proper send-off.

James Gunn had ideas for Vol. 3 for ... some time

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" debuts nine years after the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" landed in theaters in 2014, but writer/director James Gunn has been talking about his notions for what a third "Guardians of the Galaxy" installment could look like for ages. In November 2014, Gunn opened up to IndieWire about his process for writing the then-forthcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," noting that he'd had the story for sequels planned out when he was still making the very first installment.

"To be honest, I had the basic story for number two while I was working on number one," he said. "And perhaps, even beyond that."

Harboring notions for where the Guardians could go next, it's reasonable to assume Gunn's had some sort of overarching plan for these characters all along. Of course, it would take much longer than anyone in 2014 could've comprehended to finally see that plan realized. Such early comments from Gunn indicate he was deeply committed to these cosmic outcasts for the long haul.

Why Gunn nearly didn't direct the film

While Gunn had long-simmering ideas for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," concepts aren't always enough; countless other factors play into whether or not a movie will see the light of day. Among those, whether or not a director has the passion to tell a specific story. For Gunn, there was one obstacle hindering his passion for tackling another "Guardians" installment. Talking to Entertainment Weekly just after the release of "Vol. 2," Gunn explained that his choice to kill Yondu in the first "Guardians of the Galaxy" sequel initially inspired hesitancy. 

"Michael Rooker, for all the crap I give him, is one of my closest friends in the world and the last thing I wanted to do was to make a movie without Michael Rooker in the future," he explained. "I almost didn't do 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' because there was no Michael Rooker in it, and I couldn't see making the movie without him. He means that much to me and I love him that much."

Even with the prospect of working on a set devoid of Rooker, Gunn's passion for the assorted Guardians eventually dwarfed such concerns. So, the filmmaker pressed onward with further adventures in this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Vol. 3 is announced, a fanbase rejoices

Just a few weeks before "Vol. 2" debuted in theaters, news broke that Gunn would be returning to writer/director a "Vol. 3." The announcement seemingly demonstrated confidence over the quality of "Vol. 2," as well as in Gunn's vision for the franchise. The filmmaker's statement revealed that the timing of the announcement was done to get this reveal out of the way, so he wouldn't have to grapple with a deluge of questions regarding his participation in "Vol. 3" during the press tour for "2." 

Gunn also confirmed in the announcement that "Vol. 3" would be the conclusion to the story, though he also teased it would help set up years of further Marvel Cinematic Universe cosmic storytelling. Above all else, however, Gunn promised an adventure that would live up to the reputation established by the previous "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies and the love audiences had developed for the oddball franchise. After years of talking about this potential third installment in the abstract, the official confirmation regarding Gunn's participation in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" promised an exciting future.

First update on the script brings delight, intrigue

Fans of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies didn't have to wait long after the release of "Vol. 2" to receive further news about the status of the next sequel. At the E3 convention in June 2017, Gunn offered an update on his "Vol. 3" screenplay, noting the initial draft was complete. 

"I finished the first draft of the treatment yesterday. I'm excited about it," he said in a panel. "I feel really great about it."

Gunn also cited a nagging obstacle, however. While remaining vague on the details, he noted that one prospective plot point could shatter the continuity of a background element from the first "Guardians" film. 

"Marvel Canon, MCU, is crazy," he explained. "There's the 616 universe which is the Marvel Comics Universe, which people get hung up on that canon, and then there's the MCU, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has a separate canon. I did something in the first movie of 'Guardians' where it was in the background but it was distinctly there, and people know that it's there. And I'm like god****it. Because I have a really good storytelling reason for breaking the canon, and I stayed up last night figuring out if I'm gonna do it or not. I still don't know."

On the one hand, the anecdote reflects the kind of geeky thinking that goes into penning a script for a "Guardians" film. But it also reflects the level of detail Gunn was applying to the inaugural draft. Every aspect of this film, and its relationship to the earlier installments, was already giving him anxiety. This very first update on the screenplay made it clear that Gunn was putting lots of energy into finishing things with a satisfying, solid flick.

Gunn gets fired

The production of "Vol. 3" was rocked in July 2018 when Gunn came under fire for his social media activity, resulting in him being fired from the movie. The development came after a re-emergence of some of Gunn's old tweets (primarily made in 2008 and 2009), in which the Troma alumni and creator of such series as "PG Porn" made attempted jokes about sensitive topics like rape and pedophilia. 

In response to the ensuing calls for Gunn to face repercussions, Disney chairman Alan Horn released a statement noting that Gunn's comments weren't consistent with the Disney brand, which necessitated his firing. 

"The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James' Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio's values," he said. "We have severed our business relationship with him."

The development, unique among so-called "cancellations" of the #MeToo era in that it seemed to unfold less as a reckoning and more as a politically-influenced comeuppance, inspired controversy across the entertainment industry. Once again, the brotherhood of the "Guardians" cast manifested itself, with main cast members like Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper signing a statement of unwavering support for Gunn. 

"We fully support James Gunn," the cast said, posting the statement on the social media accounts of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and other cast members. "We were all shocked by his abrupt firing last week and have intentionally waited these ten days to respond in order to think, pray, listen, and discuss. In that time, we've been encouraged by the outpouring of support from fans and members of the media who wish to see James reinstated as director of Volume 3 as well as discouraged by those so easily duped into believing the many outlandish conspiracy theories surrounding him."

Considering how much of the franchise was Gunn's voice, and now how many actors seemed unenthused about the prospect of moving on without him, "Vol. 3" seemed to be dead before its first scene had been filmed.

Despite rampant blowback to the firing, Variety reported in August 2018 that Disney, at the time, was not looking to rehire Gunn. In fact, the studio was prepared to delay the feature's initial February 2019 date of principal photography to allow more time to find a new filmmaker.

A brief hunt for other directors

In the wake of Gunn's termination, there was brief consideration of a different filmmaker taking the reigns. Given how deeply intertwined Gunn was with these characters — even the musical needle drops all oozed Gunn — it would be a tall order. Still, that didn't stop the rumor mill from spinning wildly about potential names; "Bumblebee" and "Kubo and the Two Strings" director Travis Knight was briefly rumored, after previously being one of the reported finalists to direct "Eternals," for instance. 

Perhaps the most notable name was Adam McKay, director of such comedies as "Step Brothers" and "Anchorman," who has since transitioned to more serious fare like "Don't Look Up" and "Vice," and served as one of the writers on "Ant-Man." 

McKay revealed in 2018 that Marvel Studios CCO Kevin Feige had asked him about potentially taking over "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," among other prospective Marvel Cinematic Universe gigs. While various names were either rumored or floated as potential new rulers of the "Guardians" franchise, there was never much momentum behind any of them. Deadline would later report that Disney never seriously pursued a replacement for Gunn on the project, which is why this hunt for a new director felt so half-hearted.

The rehiring of James Gunn

In another shocking development, Gunn reclaimed his title as writer/director of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" in October 2018, just three months after he was fired. When the news dropped in March 2019 that Gunn was returning Deadline reported that then-head of Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn had grown impressed with how Gunn had reacted to the firing. In the wake of these actions, even with Gunn signing on in the meantime to direct "The Suicide Squad" for Warner Bros. and DC, the decision was made to bring Gunn back into the Marvel fold. 

"My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since — not just because they were stupid, not at all funny, wildly insensitive, and certainly not provocative like I had hoped, but also because they don't reflect the person I am today or have been for some time," Gunn had tweeted in the wake of his firing. "Regardless of how much time has passed, I understand and accept the business decisions ... Even these many years later, I take full responsibility for the way I conducted myself then ... To everyone inside my industry and beyond, I again offer my deepest apologies."

Gunn kept his initial public response to his re-hiring simple, noting on Twitter (per Space.com) that he was unspeakably grateful for the chance to return. Of course, even with Gunn back in the director's chair, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" would not be moving forward at its original pace. Gunn now had obligations to "The Suicide Squad," which ensured that "Vol. 3" wouldn't begin shooting for a few years. Still, even with this postponement, Gunn's original vision for "Vol. 3" had now risen from the ashes.

Vol. 3's relationship to Infinity War and Endgame

While many Marvel Cinematic Universe fans were unsurprised to see the various Guardians of the Galaxy show up in 2018's "Avengers: Infinity War" and 2019's "Avengers: Endgame," few could've predicted what a mammoth impact these movies would have on the team's roster. Specifically, the unpredictable demise of Gamora in "Infinity War," which changed the trajectory of the franchise forever. The introduction of an alternate universe version of the character in "Endgame" then further upended the status quo of the "Guardians" franchise going forward. 

Gunn would later explain in a February 2021 tweet (per SyFy) that his initial grand vision for the Guardians of the Galaxy didn't involve Gamora perishing at the hands of Thanos. However, he was given a heads-up on the development while the "Infinity War" script was being finalized, so he had plenty of time to mold "Vol. 3" around this development. 

"Infinity War" and "Endgame" writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely noted in a 2019 interview with Comicbook.com that they also made sure to leave elements of Gamora and the other Guardians a little open-ended at the conclusion of "Endgame," just to give Gunn more flexibility on where he'd next take those characters. While Gamora's demise changed everything for the Guardians of the Galaxy, clear communication between the creative teams of these assorted Marvel films ensured that "Vol. 3" could respond accordingly. 

How much did the Guardians 3 script changed over time?

The production of "Vol. 3" didn't only get delayed because of Gunn's firing; commitments to writing and directing "The Suicide Squad" and ensuing duties on the spinoff TV program "Peacemaker" and a "Guardians" holiday special made Gunn one of Hollywood's most in-demand talents — compounded further in October 2022 when he was handed the keys to the entire DC film and television universe. As year after year passed, one could imagine a scenario where Gunn continued tinkering with his "Vol. 3" screenplay until it had become a radically different beast than what he had originally planned.

But Gunn responded to a November 2020 question on Twitter by saying there had been only minimal tweaks to the script since his rehiring; unsurprising, since Feige had expressed a desire in 2019 to film the draft Chris Pratt called "off the chain," even if Gunn had remained in exile.

Gunn told The Hollywood Reporter months later that the "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" screenplay had largely remained intact over the years, with no significant changes being made to his writing to accommodate the film's new place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe release schedule. Instead, Gunn insisted that any adjustments that had been made to the script were out of his own creative impulses or perfectionist tendencies. Through all the postponements and hurdles "Vol. 3" has faced, it's clear Gunn's script for the project was one constant everyone believed in.

The influence of Gunn's DC projects on Guardians 3

Even if "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" didn't change radically during Gunn's absence, that doesn't mean the director's forays into the world of DC Comics adaptations didn't have an impact. Specifically, Gunn took cues from how many practical sets and locations were used throughout shooting on "The Suicide Squad" and "Peacemaker" in planning out how to film his third "Guardians."

Gunn told Variety in 2022 that "Vol. 3" would be filmed with more realistic techniques in comparison to its direct predecessors, emulating a strategy he'd employed on the set of "The Suicide Squad." Gunn also said making his first two DC projects had taught him how to better find an efficient work/life balance, in contrast to the two "Guardians" films that had left him feeling drained and overworked. 

"I had as much fun as you could have during COVID making 'Peacemaker,' and so I'm trying to apply that more to 'Vol. 3'," he explained. "In all truth, the first two 'Guardians,' I love the cast and crew, but they were really difficult to make. And a lot of that was self-imposed difficulty by me. I realized after 'Vol. 2' that I couldn't continue to live a life if I made everything I did like 'Vol. 2,' which I just killed myself over, unnecessarily. I needed to balance my life a little bit better. And so I've been applying that to 'Vol. 3.'"

He continued: "I think 'The Suicide Squad' also has informed 'Vol. 3' a lot in terms of how we're shooting it. There's a different type of groundedness, I think, in this movie that we had in both 'Peacemaker' and 'Suicide Squad.' I learned so much from everything that I do."

The character Gunn felt was the heart and soul of Vol. 3

There are a lot of characters running around in "Vol. 3." Not only do all the surviving primary heroes from the first two movies come back for one final bow, but there is also a bevy of newer characters like Cosmo, Adam Warlock, and Lylla. With so many cosmic weirdos to juggle, it's easy to imagine that the script for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" could become overwhelmed. But one thing that kept the production on target was Gunn's constant belief that one figure would truly epitomize the heart and soul of the movie: Rocket.

Gunn explained to Entertainment Weekly in 2022 that he's always felt a deep personal connection to Rocket, one that demanded a proper wrap up the intergalactic critter's plotline. For Gunn, extensive dives into the character's past were required; keeping his sights so heavily on Rocket gave "Vol. 3" a fixed point on which to orient, centering a motion picture with a potentially mega-crowded cast.

The extensive hunt for an Adam Warlock actor

After years of being teased in other Marvel films, Adam Warlock is finally set to make his live-action debut in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." Portrayed by Will Poulter ("Midsommar," "We're the Millers," "The Maze Runner"), his surprise casting came following a lengthy search for the right actor to tackle this cosmic hero. The Hollywood Reporter reported that among the other finalists for the role were "1917" leading man George McKay and the star of the original season of "Bridgerton," Regé-Jean Page.

"He's definitely not a good guy," Gunn said in 2023 while discussing the casting. "What we're seeing is the infant form of Adam Warlock, newly out of the cocoon, and he does not understand life very well. He's basically a baby. People online were saying 'Oh, Tom Cruise should be Adam Warlock'. I wanted somebody who was youthful, and I wanted somebody who had the dramatic chops and the comedic

chops, not only for this movie but for what Marvel will use Adam Warlock for in the future. He could become this really important character."

For Gunn, a key part of Warlock was to convey an immediately tangible sense of youth, since this character was supposed to be newly created. Poulter, who'd previously worked as a child actor and often played high schoolers even when he was in his 20s, fits the bill nicely. Additionally, Gunn was also looking for an actor who could handle a wide range of tones so that they could handle anything Marvel threw at Warlock in projects beyond "Vol. 3."

Why Guardians 3 had to eschew shooting on The Volume

In early 2021, Gunn offered a peek into a technology that "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" would utilize that hadn't been previously available to its predecessors. In a tweet responding to a fan, Gunn revealed that certain sequences and environments in "Vol. 3" would be utilizing the StageCraft technology, otherwise known as "The Volume." 

A pioneering technique used on "The Mandalorian," the tech allows actors to inhabit expansive digital environments while they're shooting, rather than filming against a green screen. Given that fellow 2023 Marvel Cinematic Universe title "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" made extensive use of the technology, it wasn't surprising to hear that a "Guardians" film would as well.

But just before principal photography on "Vol. 3" began, Gunn changed his plans. In another social media response, Gunn confirmed that the StageCraft technology would not be utilized after all, because of how massive this feature's sets were. Given just how many enormous practical sets were built for Gunn's 2021 motion picture "The Suicide Squad," it makes sense that the filmmaker's imagination would've grown too large for the confines of what StageCraft could accomplish. With this development, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" resorted to old-school methods of realizing its alien worlds rather than the newest and flashiest tools of the modern filmmaking world.

How Gunn feels saying goodbye

After so many years of development, "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" finally finished principal photography in May 2022. The road to the movie being completed was far from over, however; it would still require a full year of post-production before its May 2023 premiere. Nevertheless, the completion of filming marked a momentous occasion; it was time for Gunn, Pratt, Saldana and the others to say goodbye to the Bautista and others to say goodbye to the franchise that had made them superstars. Naturally, Gunn had to commemorate the occasion with a lengthy Twitter thread, recalling his complicated emotions.

Gunn's tweets (as recounted by Collider) began with him revealing that the final shot was simply Sean Gunn sitting in for Rocket, an image that, combined with it being the last day of filming, almost brought the director to tears. He also noted that the last decade of his existence had been defined by these space rogues, which made this moment of finality really hit home. 

Above all else, though, Gunn emphasized the sense of love he had for these characters and all the cast and crew members bringing them to life. Getting to this moment in the production of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" required endurance through many hardships and obstacles. But even after all that turmoil, Gunn was so moved by the experience of shooting "Vol. 3" that he could only bring himself to emphasize the importance of love.