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Why Disney rehired James Gunn for GotG 3

The Avengers aren't the only ones making a huge comeback this year. According to a report by Deadline, the Walt Disney Company has made the completely unexpected decision to re-hire James Gunn to finish what he started with the Guardians of the Galaxy series, bringing the writer-director back on board for the franchise's delayed Vol. 3.

The sequel, originally set to begin filming in fall 2018, was shut down indefinitely after Disney made the controversial decision to summarily fire Gunn for provocative past tweets that made light of sensitive topics. 

Despite both internal and external campaigns to forgive and forget, the company stuck by the firing, with studio chairman Alan Horn calling Gunn's old attempts at Twitter humor "indefensible and inconsistent with our studio's values."

Time and other factors seem to have softened that stance. What happened in the months since Gunn's firing to make this unlikely triumph possible? Let's break down the reasons why Disney re-hired James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

​​​The cast supported him

To call James Gunn's firing in July 2018 "unexpected" would be a bit of an understatement. Under Gunn's direction, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies came out of nowhere to become one of the most financially successful properties in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a feat made all the more remarkable when you recall that the property was all-but-unknown to the general public before the first movie landed in 2014. 

On top of the box office earnings the movies brought in, the movies as written by Gunn earned rave reviews, doing the remarkable work of making talking trees and trash pandas beloved household names for families across the world. But as Gunn's sudden firing seemed to demonstrate, all of that success meant nothing in the face of corporate orders. 

After Disney's decision was made public, the entire main cast of the Guardians franchise rebuked the company in the most diplomatic way possible with an extraordinary open letter posted to Chris Pratt's Instagram page. The unusual and remarkable show of support resonated with fans as a seemingly-sincere gesture on behalf of the embattled filmmaker, leaving many to hope that the pressure from the Guardians themselves would turn the situation around. But publicly, at least, the company was unswayed, and it soon began looking more likely that Disney would rather scuttle Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in its entirety than consider the option of bringing Gunn back.

The fans supported him

Outside of the Disney empire, fans of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and the MCU as a whole) went into overdrive to rally, rage, and gnash teeth over what was widely seen as an unfair, snap decision. Censure him publicly? Sure. Call for an apology? Why not. But a full-fledged firing? To many commentators, it was just too much of an over-correction. 

With future movies in the franchise on the line now that the series' main creative force was gone, fans mobilized in protest, rallying on social media and starting petitions to re-hire him, with one Change.org petition garnering hundreds of thousands of signatures alone. 

While some were sincerely offended about the contents of Gunn's unearthed tweets, defenders of the director argued that he had done nothing wrong to begin with, and also wasn't really that guy anymore, steering his public persona away from groan-worthy cringe comedy well before he got the Guardians job. But despite extensive back-and-forth about the potential of re-hiring Gunn, nothing came of the protests — at least, nothing the public was made aware of at the time.

Marvel never met with any other directors

Many movies in the sprawling MCU have the feel of being designed by committee, largely because… well, they are. But Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movies are often seen as being uniquely the result of Gunn's comedic voice, fusing the out-there humor of his previous, hard-edged satires with a more optimistic, Disney-approved, family-friendly vibe. (While the first movie's script is credited to both Gunn and Nicole Perlman, the winsome humor of the finished script has been reported as being largely the result of a James Gunn re-write.)

While we don't know what went on internally in the wake of Gunn's firing, fans and commentators quickly began stressing over the idea of someone else taking over Gunn's job as director. While many MCU movies can feel somewhat paint-by-numbers, how could a replacement for Gunn effectively mimic his style? And if they could, wouldn't that mimicry feel hollow? 

Rumors were abundant of potential replacements for the filmmaker, including Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, presumably just based on the associative property of "well, he's funny too" rather than any substantive reports. According to the Deadline report that announced Gunn's reinstatement, all of this chatter was only rumor, and Marvel Studios never approached or considered any other filmmaker to head up the delayed project.

They were going to use his script

In the aftermath of James Gunn's firing, Drax the Destroyer actor Dave Bautista cracked his knuckles and went to town on social media, sharing to anyone who would listen that he would straight-up quit his job if Marvel Studios declined to press forward with Gunn's Vol. 3 script. 

The actor said in an interview with ShortList, "Where I'm at right now is that if [they] don't use that script, then I'm going to ask them to release me from my contract, cut me out, or recast me. I'd be doing James a disservice if I didn't."  

Whether Bautista's extensive threats and public criticism had anything to do with it or not, it was soon reported by The Hollywood Reporter that Marvel and Disney would indeed be moving forward with Gunn's script

To onlookers, the studios seemed to have been in a tight bind regarding the screenplay, even beyond the PR nightmare scuttling it outright would have likely caused. Having clearly laid the groundwork for future storylines — such as the introduction of Adam Warlock — with the expectation that Gunn's Vol. 3 script would follow up on them, it may have felt too difficult to remove Gunn's screenplay from the series' house of cards meta-plot. It also may have been impossible to augment it with re-writes without having to credit him anyway.

To many fans, the news was a small comfort in a sad situation, but it also left reason to hold out hope in a full re-hiring.

Gunn was a class act the whole time

According to the Deadline report that broke the story, the exciting news of Gunn's rehiring is not a new development, at least internally. The decision was apparently made months ago, with Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn taking multiple meetings with the embattled director to talk over ways to potentially return to the fold.

In the aftermath of his unceremonious firing, Gunn kept publicly silent, even as the reaction from fans became more and more apocalyptic. (Dave Bautista, a true ride-or-die friend if there ever was one, made multiple public comments excoriating Disney for the firing decision, at times being so pointedly angry with his critiques that some questioned his future with the company as well.) But apparently, Gunn's clear-eyed, conciliatory reaction to the controversy — as well as the public apology that he offered — helped convince Horn that the company had made the wrong call.

Now, it looks like his capability to keep from leaving bridges burning behind him may have brought him the best of all possible worlds — a relationship with DC and Marvel Studios, and huge projects in the works for both.

He could've become exclusive to Warner Bros.

Any rivalry between Marvel and DC, whether it comes to comic book properties or high-profile movies, is largely a matter of perception. They're companies that create stories, not warring nations, no matter how hard some fans may ride for one side or another. But despite that lack of real animosity between the two big brands, it still came as a shock to many when news broke that James Gunn was jumping ship to the so-called "other side." 

In October, just three months after being shown the door by Disney, the fired Gunn loaded up his next project with Warner Bros. and DC, being tapped to both write and potentially direct a follow-up to DC's Suicide Squad. Peoples' minds were blown so hard, you'd think Harley Quinn went to town on them with a baseball bat.

By this point, many moviegoers were already getting comfortable with the new status quo, assuming Guardians of the Galaxy was done for and getting weirdly excited about a Suicide Squad 2. But it turns out, whatever deal Gunn signed with Warner Bros. wasn't an exclusive one, leaving him free to resume work on Vol. 3 when he's wrapped up with the Suicide Squad sequel, according to the report from Deadline.

He's a huge moneymaker​

One factor that may have made it easy to bring Gunn back is just how good for business the filmmaker has been for Disney. Together, the first two movies in the Guardians of the Galaxy series earned Disney a combined total of over $1.6 billion — and that's just referring to the movie money, not the untold amounts of cash raked in by toys, theme park rides, and other ancillary properties associated with the brand. There's also got to be at least a couple of people who only came out to Avengers: Infinity War because the Guardians were involved.

In the short-term, Gunn's history of tasteless jokes may have felt damaging to the Disney brand, so much so that any backlash the company would get for firing him would be justified by their bottom line. Somewhere along the way, that calculus seems to have changed, and now Disney and Marvel Studios are set to deliver not just a highly-anticipated sequel, but one many had resigned to thinking was never going to happen. After all that, the corporate overlords in Disney's board rooms get to look like the good guys for bringing Gunn back. Apparently not even the Mouse House monopoly can say no to another easy billion. 

His vision will help shape the "cosmic" feel of MCU Phase 4

More than many other filmmakers who've worked in the MCU — ranks which include Murder on the Orient Express director Kenneth Branagh, Sinister director Scott Derrickson, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon — James Gunn has been seen as a central, essential figure for his franchise. His unique talents working within the Marvel machine seem to have not gone unnoticed over the years, with the once-fringe filmmaker being drawn closer and closer into the company's brain trust, at times seeming likely to one day take the whole thing over should producer Kevin Feige step down.

Feige himself has sung Gunn's praises in the past in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, with the MCU's head honcho saying that Gunn, in his mind, "could easily oversee additional stories beyond Vol. 3." In particular, Feige noted Gunn's connection to the MCU's cosmic world, with more space-faring adventures with other properties potentially in the cards for the filmmaker after the Guardians story wrapped up. Now, we might get to see all of that really happen.

After the news broke that Gunn had been re-hired for Vol. 3, the writer-director shared a statement on his Twitter page, writing beneath a single red heart emoji, "I am tremendously grateful to every person out there who has supported me over the past few months. [...] I deeply appreciate Disney's decision and I am excited to continue making films that investigate the ties of love that bind us all."