Less than a year after Disney axed James Gunn from the third installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, the company has decided to bring him back. As Deadline reported Friday afternoon, Gunn will be reinstated at the helm of the franchise he initially shepherded, bringing an end to an awkward stand-off between Disney and the Guardians cast members, who sided with their director.
To quickly recap: In July, Disney fired Gunn—who was working on the script for Guardians 3 at the time—after a coordinated campaign led by alt-right figures such as Jack Posobiec and Mike Cernovich resurfaced nearly decade-old tweets the director had made in which he joked about pedophilia and rape. “The offensive attitudes and statements discovered on James’ Twitter feed are indefensible and inconsistent with our studio’s values, and we have severed our business relationship with him,” Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn said in a statement at the time.
The decision was met with plenty of public ire, given that a multibillion-dollar company was being swayed by a small but loud group of bad-faith internet trolls taking tasteless jokes out of context and repurposing them as supposed evidence of a large-scale Hollywood pedophilia ring. The primary cast of Guardians issued a statement days later advocating for the director’s reinstatement. “We believe the theme of redemption has never been more relevant than now,” the cast wrote. “Each of us looks forward to working with our friend James again in the future. His story isn’t over—not by a long shot.” Dave Bautista took it a step further, insisting in interviews that he would refuse to work on the third Guardians film were Gunn’s initial script not used.
Gunn, meanwhile, didn’t stay idle after his firing. In October, he was announced as the writer for a Suicide Squad sequel, and it was later confirmed he would also direct the follow-up, which, after a shakeup of the core cast of antiheroes, is effectively a franchise reboot. As Deadline noted in its Friday report, Gunn’s reinstatement on Guardians 3 will not affect his work on the new Suicide Squad film, which will take priority and film before Gunn is set to get back to work with Marvel.
There are a couple of things to take away from the studio’s about-face. The first is that Disney shouldn’t have been swayed to fire Gunn from an online alt-right campaign to begin with. As Deadline reported, Horn and Gunn had met on several occasions after the initial firing, and his reinstatement was something they’d been talking about for months. At the time, Gunn’s firing was a bad PR move that Disney believed was a good PR move. His rehiring is confirmation of what many had been saying all along—that Disney had acted hastily and erroneously.
The good news, though, is that Disney was willing to right its own wrong and bring Gunn back. It’d have been just as easy for the company to persist without Gunn—even if Bautista was threatening to basically go on strike—if only to assuage its executives’ egos. Apparently, the higher-ups at Disney realized they made a fatal error, and did what they could to remedy the situation. Gunn has repeatedly apologized for his callous jokes. (“In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people,” he once said. “I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies.”) That Disney’s higher-ups were ultimately willing to reinstate him, and that Gunn was also willing to return, at least assures that the Guardians franchise will be rounded out with a rightful trilogy. (Though, considering the timeline and the Suicide Squad obligation, the third movie might not arrive for at least a few more years, after originally being pegged for a 2020 release.)
The Guardians franchise is a plucky vehicle, the first instance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe of an auteur-driven approach with characters casual comic book fans might not be familiar with; it’s a gambit that worked, financially and commercially, and has since been supported in other endeavors. (See: Taika Waititi’s turning Thor: Ragnarok into a psychedelic workplace comedy, the indie duo Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden going full Kree and Skrull and Alien Cat with Captain Marvel.) The Gunn fiasco was an unfortunate, unseemly bump in Marvel’s road to utter box office dominance, but now that he’s been reinstated, well, at least it’s over.