It’s obvious that Marvel is not going to shut shop for a decade in the hopes of generating organic demand for the franchise to return. Kevin Feige and his team are too greedy to do that. They are going to flood the market with their products and counter the general disdain for their movies and shows (just look at the diminishing box-office returns) by releasing more movies and shows. The delay in the releases due to the uproar against the exploitation of VFX and CGI artists is probably only temporary. As soon as they start to make money at the box office with subpar visuals again, they are going to revert to their usual ways because that’s how corporations work. That said, amidst all this blandness and homogeneity, since “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” has managed to stand out, Marvel can take a few notes from the James Gunn film instead of fussing about the release schedule of the upcoming content.
Make The Multiverse Matter, Or Scrap It.
“Avengers: Endgame” introduced the concept of time travel and established the existence of the multiverse after it was hinted at in “Doctor Strange.” It seemed like “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was going to delve deeper into it, but that turned out to be a hoax, thereby cheapening its worth. “What If…?” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and “Multiverse of Madness” had the potential to truly open the doors to the infinite versions of the characters that we’ve become familiar with. The animated series was marred by horrible animation and unimaginative plots. “No Way Home” raked in the big bucks due to the nostalgia surrounding Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. But, beyond that, it ended up being a pale imitation of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Since “Multiverse of Madness” was released really close to “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” and we saw the extent to which the boundlessness of the multiverse can be explored, it failed to hit the mark. And while every other movie and show didn’t have to actively deal with the repercussions of the multiverse, James Gunn had the difficult task of dealing with Variant Gamora for his trilogy capper. So, what did he do?
Well, to put it simply, he didn’t turn Gamora into an easy fix for Peter Quill’s heart-related issues and put the focus on the soul of the “Guardians” series, i.e., Rocket Raccoon. From what I could gather, Gunn understood that movies don’t work the same way comic books do. Audiences are programmed to follow a character (or more than one character) over the course of multiple films. However, as soon as they are rebooted, a disconnect occurs. Gunn was probably aware that that would happen in Gamora’s case, and instead of making her the center of attention, he just made her tag along while making Quill’s heartbreak the object of ridicule. Up until now, Marvel has treated these variants and alternate versions as nothing more than cameos for people to point at and cheer. That can be fun in the moment, but that’s not good storytelling. Since Gunn prioritized good storytelling over everything else, he sidelined the endless exposition that comes with the multiverse, and the results were there for everyone to see. Marvel, as a brand, has and will always cater to kids. Hence, they won’t truly push the envelope in terms of visualizing the weirdest corners of the multiverse. So, why not just scrap the whole idea and give more importance to character-based storytelling?
Forget About The Plot And Care About The Characters.
Okay, the hard part is over. Now it’s time to talk about the relatively easy fixes. Of late, Marvel has become more concerned with interconnectivity in the franchise and explaining the plot of the movie over and over again. I don’t know if it’s some kind of mandate that comes from Kevin Feige or if the storytellers go creatively bankrupt as soon as they walk through the doors of Marvel Studios, but almost every single story is about saving the universe and detailing how they’re going to do it. Whenever two characters interact, they are either talking about their origins or what they are about to do. No one is given a moment to reflect or talk about their feelings (I know how cliche this sounds, but it’s true). Now, go through the dialogue-heavy scenes in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3,” and you’ll see so many conversations where characters are staying in the moment and voicing their observations. Even if they are talking about the plan, it’s worded in such a way that it feels like the characters are expressing themselves through their intentions instead of plainly laying out their scheme.
Given how it has stuck with me, my favorite scene is the one between Drax, Mantis, and Nebula. Gunn builds up to it in a casual but meticulous fashion by having Drax be too stupid, and Nebula be too critical of everything. Since Mantis is docile, she isn’t always allowed to voice her opinion. So, when she bursts and underscores the pitfalls of being too optimistic and too pessimistic, it feels like the scene is doing more than having an argument between the three characters. Can I say the same about any other Marvel property in the past two years? No. And, in my opinion, that’s troubling. If Marvel wants its characters to be memorable and its non-action scenes to be more than an assimilation of words about the plot, they’ve got to inject some humanity and relatability into their franchise. I don’t know about the rest of you, but you can’t make me care about the story if I don’t like the characters. To be clear, that doesn’t mean the characters have to be likable because then you go down the rabbit hole of making sugar-coated, non-controversial stereotypes. I mean, they’ve got to be interesting. Give me interesting characters. That’s not a tall ask.
Bring Back Irredeemable Villains
Marvel’s gallery of villains is a bunch of weaksauce. No, Loki isn’t a villain. He is an anti-hero. I am not having any more of that nonsense. The only good villain in the Infinity Saga is Thanos. Everyone else who came and went was either redeemed or not evil enough to be memorable. James Gunn is guilty of being a part of this issue with Ronan the Accuser (I had to Google the name) and Ego. That said, things have been particularly bad after “Endgame,” even though the casting department has been on fire. They brought in Ray Winstone for “Black Widow,” and he defined the word “generic.” They got Tony Leung Chiu-wai for “Shang-Chi,” and it was painful to watch such a legend just go through the motions. They repurposed Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina and somehow made them feel worse. They even ruined Christian Bale’s return to the comic-book movie subgenre. And the less I say about Jonathan Majors as Kang, the better, especially after his off-screen controversies. Thankfully, in “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3,” Gunn has rectified his mistake and broken this horrible streak plaguing the MCU with The High Evolutionary by simply making him a fascist who partakes in animal cruelty and is okay with genocide.
Well, to be honest, that’s just the first step towards giving The High Evolutionary a sense of weight. There are several other nuances at play. For example, the thing that forces him to show his hand (which involves killing Rocket, Teef, Floor, and Leave) is the realization that his creation (Rocket) is smarter than him and has better problem-solving capabilities than him. It ends up being the reason for going after Rocket a second time because he wants to instill Rocket’s sentience and ability to invent spontaneously in his recent creations. It seems simple, but it speaks volumes about tech-based “geniuses” who want to play God. By the way, the lines used to display the High Evolutionary’s God Complex are so powerful. As mentioned before, Marvel has a very “family-oriented” demographic (which is another word for “conservative”). So, having a villain say that God is dead to such an audience requires a massive set of balls. In addition to all that, there’s the irredeemable aspect of the character, which is furthered by Chukwudi Iwuji’s soaring performance. He genuinely gives off the sensation that something is fundamentally wrong with The High Evolutionary, and there’s no point in reasoning with him. Also, the fact that Iwuji didn’t shy away from making a mockery of himself by standing on a crate to talk to the amazingly tall Elizabeth Debicki helped flesh out The High Evolutionary’s petty insecurities. In conclusion, and at the cost of sounding repetitive, let your villains be the most vile pieces of trash ever because defeating them will make your heroes look all the more heroic.
Don’t Keep Audience Expectations In Mind While Crafting Cheer-Worthy Moments.
If I remember correctly, there are a total of three moments in “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3” that demand an audibly loud reaction from the audience. The first one involves Groot growing wings. The second one is, of course, the hallway fight sequence. And the third one is when Rocket finally accepts his full name, i.e., Rocket Raccoon. But apart from these three instances, Gunn and his team never stop the film for a joke, a cameo, or something revelatory. In doing so, the film stands in stark contrast to the rest of Marvel’s recent films and shows. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” was the biggest offender when it came to baking in pauses for laughter or cheers so that the “theater could be turned into a stadium.” However, since it didn’t stay in the theater forever (there’s only one “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”) and it was scrutinized once people watched it from the comfort of their homes, those awkward pauses stuck out like a sore thumb.
Marvel’s staunchest defenders suggested that the production house release a special version of these films in which recorded cheers would play over those pauses. I’m not sure if it was mentioned jokingly, but there were people who unironically supported this sentiment. And then they blame Martin Scorsese for saying that Marvel films aren’t cinema and that they should be regarded as theme park rides. Anyway, since there’s no point in going back and forth about Scorsese’s remarks because we know that his assessment is correct, let’s arrive at the conclusion that movies aren’t sitcoms, and they don’t need cues for laughter and cheers. You can do it for TV shows if it’s a sitcom. “WandaVision” pulled that off quite well. It became a generic, CGI-heavy fight-to-the-death by the end, but until then, it tackled the sitcom allegations against the MCU pretty smartly. However, when it comes to films, you shouldn’t pause and instead focus on creating character-centric moments where the audience can’t help but organically react in an explicit fashion, as we did for Groot, Rocket, and the rest of the Guardians.
Stop Teasing The Next Project
Despite being a part of the large (and messy) tapestry that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” never seemed like it was concerned with talking about anything other than the story of our favorite band of misfits. That naturally allowed Rocket’s story to shine. It allowed The High Evolutionary to be considered one of the best cinematic villains of all time. And it gave Gunn the opportunity to properly say goodbye to the characters that he had spent so much time with. Yes, the movie did have one mid-credits and a post-credits scene but, apart from the promise that the legendary Star-Lord will return, Rocket leading a new group of Guardians and Quill having breakfast with his grandfather seemed like a natural extension of the story we had just witnessed. The mid-credits scene felt extra special because it tied into the first song that Star-Lord ever played for us on the big screen. So, while walking out of the theater, my emotions were synonymous with the film I had just watched and not something that may or may not arrive in the future.
When it comes to undercutting the climactic moment of the film, “Multiverse of Madness” is the first name that pops up in my mind. To this day, I’ve not been able to figure out the reasoning behind Strange grappling with the emergence of the third eye and then casually using it in the mid-credits scene. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also takes the cake. Imagine centering your entire movie around the death of the titular character’s love interest and immediately showing that she’s fine and well in Valhalla. Well, not just her, but every single character whose death has traumatized Thor is also chilling in the afterlife. Can you imagine the levels of dumbness you need to cross to get there? It’s off the charts. Therefore, please, for the love of cinema, stop doing this, Marvel. Keep your post-credits, mid-credits, or any other scene that you want to feature in the credits limited to the story at hand. I don’t care about the film or show you have in the pipeline. I will care about it when it’s in theaters or on the OTT platform. Until then, keep it under wraps.
Let The Storyteller’s Freak Flag Fly
One of the biggest reasons why “GOTG 3” is one of the best movies of the year is because James Gunn has been allowed to express himself as authentically as he can. Of course, a movie is a collaborative process, and Gunn has clearly ensured that every single member of the cast and crew gets to shine as well. And that includes the much-maligned VFX and CGI departments. I haven’t seen any other Marvel director use their social media handles to highlight the work that has gone into making the all-CGI characters in the film, but James Gunn has done so before and after its release. Gunn’s roots are in the body-horror genre, and you can clearly see that on display via The High Evolutionary and his antics. The music in the “Guardians” movies has always been a massive highlight, and Gunn hasn’t disappointed in that aspect yet again. Gunn’s style of humor and depressive behavior isn’t for everyone, but he hasn’t compromised while cracking jokes or kicking us in the gut with his emotional twists and turns.
Now, given the good reception of the film, Marvel can force every director looking to helm one of their projects to merely emulate Gunn. And I can tell you that that’s going to be a massive mistake. You cannot make another James Gunn, but you can allow a new director to make a name for themselves. I am sure that every artist has a fresh perspective, a unique set of inspirations, and a never-before-seen way of telling a story. Feige should allow all those elements to come to the forefront instead of aiming for homogeneity. Over the years, Marvel has turned out to be one of the biggest franchises in the world and thus can afford to take some risks, starting with letting the creative team use the resources at their disposal in the freakiest ways imaginable.