EXCLUSIVE: Might there be a glimmer of hope for change of heart in the quick banishment of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn from the Magic Kingdom? Nobody is talking about it, but sources said that back channel conversations are taking place between Marvel Studios and Disney. Sources said the Marvel contingent is trying to persuade Disney to explore a compromise that might bring Gunn back into the fold for Guardians 3, something that clearly would be best for the franchise. There is no clash or strong arming here. I’m told it’s a discussion that comes in the wake of the whole cast declaring their loyalty to Gunn, whose abrupt exit has put a thriving film franchise in a rocky place. One would have to label this 11th hour approach to be a long shot, but the community is talking about it.
Gunn’s regrettable Tweets offered indefensible comments on spectacularly serious subjects like pedophilia and rape, written as long as a decade ago. They were collected and published by The Daily Caller, One America News Network correspondent Jack Posobiec and right wing commentator Mike Cernovich, apparently after Gunn mocked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. Initial reports encouraged readers to complain to Disney, and the studio responded quickly and decisively to complete a stunning take down: “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,” said Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman.
It would not be surprising that Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige would make one last try at rapprochement. Disney’s quick guillotine contrasted dramatically to CBS’s handling of the Les Moonves controversy. Though his problems are self-inflicted, Gunn was banished for an incredibly poor choice of words; Moonves continues to run CBS, pending an investigation into allegations of serious sexual harassment bordering on sexual assault. Anyone at Disney would be hard pressed to say the quick hook has benefited the Guardians franchise. The entire cast unanimously wants Gunn back, even as they acknowledge he was an idiot, at a time he was graduating from the Troma schlock horror factory and attempting to be some kind of satirical provocateur. Gunn remains eminently hire-able and a studio chief told me recently he’s eager to give him a picture once Gunn is free of Disney.
Disney and Marvel want to move forward quickly with the next Guardians installment, and one of the reasons the Chris Pratt-starrer Cowboy Ninja Viking stalled at Universal this week was because the film was undergoing rewrites too close to start of production — a recipe for problems — and it was clear Pratt was on a tight timeline because he has to suit up to play Starlord. Gunn has written a script and Dave Bautista has gone as far as declaring he won’t want to reprise his Drax character unless Marvel uses Gunn’s version. All of this has created acrimony and destabilized a crowd pleasing franchise that grossed a collective $1.6 billion worldwide, with the sequel earning more than the original.
In this white-hot moment, there seems to be a new controversy each day for corporate leaders to navigate. It seems clear what is best for a film franchise that will become damaged goods for the next director. Some have posited that the precocious Thor: Ragnarok‘s Taika Waititi as a perfect fit, but what principled filmmaker will feel good about taking over in such circumstances?
Can even as mighty and as family friendly a corporation as Disney consider being changeable here? Stay tuned.