Shrewdly played, especially on the timing. Note the key detail in this THR report. It seems Disney never seriously intended to fire him. That was nothing more than a bone they threw to the mob that was momentarily demanding Gunn’s scalp last summer, when he got in trouble for some old tweets.

Disney knew the mob would lose interest in time and that there was no rush to name a new director for the “Guardians” series. So they fake-fired him and waited for an opportune moment, when the public appeared to be tiring of outrage mobs, to announce they were fake-rehiring him.

This week delivered that moment. Good call by Disney:

Disney fired Gunn in July 2018, after old, offensive tweets from the filmmaker were resurfaced by conservative personalities online. The firing was controversial, with Guardians of the Galaxy stars, including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper and Dave Bautista, signing an open letter asking for the filmmaker to be rehired. Bautista, in particular, had been outspoken in his support of Gunn.

Marvel Studios put Guardians 3 on hold, though Marvel head Kevin Feige and others involved have maintained they intended to make the film happen. Guardians 3 never had a release date, but Gunn previously said it would open in 2020.

In the weeks after firing Gunn, there was speculation around town about who could replace the filmmaker, with agents lining up clients but by mid-fall, any perceived search seemed to have petered out, with many thinking that the project was on the back burner. What almost no one knew was that Marvel and Disney had never undertaken a search and had gone back to Gunn and made a deal…in secret, according to insiders.

Rumors that Disney was thinking of “rehiring” Gunn began within weeks of him being “fired” last year, which makes sense now. They never canned him, or at least not really. They knew they didn’t have to. Most online mobs have an attention span of no longer than a week; all you need to do is make a token gesture to validate their outrage, wait a “respectful” amount of time, then get back to business with the offender.

Why announce their decision this week, though? Because: The war between Media Matters and Tucker Carlson over obnoxious things Tucker said on Bubba the Love Sponge’s radio show years ago has left both sides unhappy about conducting archaeological digs in online archives in search of firing offenses by ideological enemies. MMFA went digging on Tucker because they don’t like his politics and want him off Fox; righties then went digging on MMFA head Angelo Carusone to prove that his alleged outrage at Carlson’s outre comments is insincere and hypocritical. That was Disney’s cue to leak the news that Gunn was being forgiven for his own years-old thoughtcrimes. Who can complain on either side under the circumstances?

Jog your memory of Gunn’s offending tweets by revisiting John’s post from last summer, which reprinted a few. It was clear as crystal even then that they were jokes. Sophomoric jokes, certainly (“Laughter is the best medicine. That’s why I laugh at people with AIDS.”), but jokes. The most “controversial” thing he wrote was a blog post titled “Video: 100 Pubescent Girls Touch Themselves,” which turned out to be … teen girls singing along to that old Divinyls track. Some of Gunn’s right-wing critics at the time were fully aware that his intent was (tastelessly) humorous; the point of trying to get Gunn fired was simply to turn the tables on leftists by showing them that their outrage-mob habits could and would be used against them by the right if they didn’t desist. But some righties seemed earnestly, or fake-earnestly, offended. Ted Cruz, in the thick of a reelection campaign and forever desperate to ingratiate himself to right-wing activists, called for Gunn to be investigated and prosecuted if it turned out his crass yet obvious jokes about child rape were true. Gunn wasn’t investigated as far as I know and hasn’t even lost his job at Disney. Will Cruz care? Nah. He got reelected. And the mob has moved on, as it always does.