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Guardians Of The Galaxy 4 May Never Happen

Even though director James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is still a few years away, it's never too early for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to begin speculating about the follow-up and what might come after it.

Gunn recently took to Instagram for another one of his fan-friendly Q&A sessions, and he had quite a bit to say about the future of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise (via MCU Cosmic). The third Guardians film has already been announced and is 100-percent in the works (though it likely won't drop as part of Phase 4 of the MCU), and many believe that it's a likely candidate to land in Disney's open May 2023 slot for a theatrical release. That potential launch date is fairly far into the future, but inquirers on Instagram were still hot to grill Gunn about the future beyond Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

When one fan pressed about plans for a potential Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 4, Gunn replied that he had always envisioned his Guardians series as a trilogy — and nothing more. "I planned to do a trilogy from the beginning if the first one worked," Gunn wrote in an Instagram Story reply. "I have no plans to do a fourth [film]." 

That doesn't really leave much wiggle room for hopeful fans. While we aren't saying there's no chance that Disney and Marvel Studios will find a way to keep the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise alive well beyond 2023 and Phase 4 of the MCU, the totality of the evidence isn't looking so good right now. Here's why Guardians 4 may never happen.

James Gunn is essential to the Guardians of the Galaxy formula

As Gunn himself stated, he always envisioned creating a trilogy of Guardians of the Galaxy films. With that trilogy set to conclude with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, it sounds like Gunn might be ready to retire from the franchise. That's not to say another filmmaker couldn't pick up the baton for a fourth flick, but if that were to happen, fans may not be too jazzed with the results. More than almost any other sub-franchise in the MCU, Guardians is uniquely linked to the visionary filmmaking of its director and series overlord. Without Gunn's creative oversight, it's hard to imagine a possible Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 4 even registering as a proper Guardians film.

Consider also that Guardians of the Galaxy occupies a unique niche within the MCU. For all the relevant connections to the Infinity Saga told across the first three phases of the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 sported a tone and aesthetic that stood apart from the rest of Disney's superhero oeuvre. The enduring brilliance of the Guardians films is that they never took themselves too seriously. Even when the stakes got high, Gunn's movies never lost sight of the fact that they were a pair of whacky space operas set to a toe-tapping 1970s soundtrack featuring a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree. It's hard to imagine Guardians 3 departing from that formula — mostly because it so obviously works — but could a Guardians 4 achieve the same results with a different director and a shuffled cast?

There's also the small fact that by 2023, most of the Guardians cast will have been with their MCU characters for almost a decade. Many of them — most notably Star-Lord actor Chris Pratt and Gamora actress Zoe Saldana — are even bigger stars now than they were in 2014 when the first Guardians bowed; they may want to explore other avenues in their careers, and the potential departure of Gunn from the franchise would be just the kind of excuse that could precipitate a mass exodus. 

It all adds up to a pretty rocky road for a theoretical Guardians 4, though — for fans, at least — hope always springs eternal. Although the end for the beloved band of space-faring superheroes may be visible on the distant horizon, we all still have Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to look forward to, so let's just hang onto that.