In the tweet heard around the world, Dave Bautista responded to a question concerning his plans to return to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 even if director James Gunn isn’t rehired. The actor/wrestler replied that he would honor his contract but that a third Guardians movie without its writer/director wouldn’t quite be the same and that it was “pretty nauseating” to work for a company (Walt Disney) that would “empower a smear campaign by fascists #cybernazis.” Fair or not, that pretty much sums up the situation.
Whether Gunn’s old jokes about (among other things) pedophilia merited dismissal in a vacuum, the nature of how this played out, with old bawdy jokes unearthed by conservative trolls in a specific intent to use an indifference to context and theoretical hypocrisy to punish a vocal critic of the Trump administration, colors the whole event in an unpleasant light. Nonetheless, I have argued that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 doesn’t need James Gunn to be a hit. But does it even need cast members who would rather not return?
Let’s assume for a moment that the core cast members of Guardians of the Galaxy really don’t want to return considering last month’s shocking developments. Walt Disney and Marvel may be able to let them go if they really don’t want to come back. In fact, considering the uncertain future of the MCU following the “series finale” that is next year’s Avengers 4, this situation may represent a chance to experiment with the notion of soft reboots for Marvel’s most popular franchises. Guardians 3 can be a test case.
Rocket doesn’t have to be voiced by Bradley Cooper and Groot doesn’t have to be voiced by Vin Diesel. While we’re assuming that the events of Avengers 4 brings back the half of humanity wiped out by Thanos’ finger-snap of doom at the end of Infinity War, there is no law saying that Gamora (who was tossed off a cliff by her adopted father so that he could earn the Soul Stone) can’t stay as dead as Loki. Karen Gillian, Sean Gunn and Pom Klementieff can come and go as they please.
The big question is whether general audiences will flock to a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 which doesn’t prominently feature Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and Dave Bautista’s Drax. It’s a calculated risk, but offering a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie without the three core humans (Pratt, Saldana and Bautista) might cause only a slight dip in the overall box office. However, even acknowledging a potential loss in short-term revenue, it might be worth it not to force disgruntled actors to make and promote a movie that they didn’t want to make.
Even if the actors all show up and are super-duper professional on set, can we really expect them to stay silent during the press tour, especially if they were only there due to contractual obligations? Gunn’s removal is surely going to be a topic of discussion and a guy like Bautista (who clearly doesn’t care about offending King Mickey within the parameters of polite discourse) isn’t going to give the softball answer to a hardball question. Disney may not want to force them into this situation if they don’t wish to be there.
Moreover, one of several Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 credit cookies set up a potential second team. There’s no law saying that a third Guardians movie can’t involve the outer-space adventures of Sylvester Stallone’s Stakar Ogord, Michael Rosenbaum’s Martinex, Ving Rhames’ Charlie-27 and Michelle Yeoh’s Aleta Ogord. Throwing those folks into the movie, along with Groot, Rocket and (if he renews his MCU contract) Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, would arguably yield a solid return no matter who wrote and directed it. Obviously, Gunn’s worldbuilding script would have to be scrapped, but c’est la vie.
First, it would allow any Guardians of the Galaxy cast member who genuinely didn’t want to return to not be forced back. Second, it would allow Marvel to test the concept of a soft-reboot while differenciating this third film from its two predecessors. Going forward, would audiences accept someone else (an established character or otherwise) in the Iron Man suit for further Iron Man adventures? Could someone else “be” Thor or “be” Captain America? I would presume that most audiences would, even if a different character is not the same thing as a new actor (Mark Ruffalo) playing an established character (Hulk).
Sure, Marvel is going to introduce new heroes and possibly reintroduce the X-Men and the Fantastic Four down the line. But it would be awfully nice for Marvel to know that the general audience would still show up for a new group of Guardians of the Galaxy in relatively similar numbers compared to the first two movies. That would allow them the potential for a new Captain America trilogy (starring Sebastian Stan or Anthony Mackie) or a new Iron Man/Iron Woman trilogy with someone else using Tony Stark’s tech.