Marvel and Disney are talking about re-hiring director James Gunn

Last month Disney fired director James Gunn over his old tweets involving everything from pedophilia to the Holocaust. Ten days later the cast of the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films wrote a letter expressing their support for Gunn and asking that Disney consider rehiring him as director of the 3rd Guardians film. Yesterday, Deadline reported that Marvel was making a last-minute appeal to Disney, asking them to reconsider:

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…

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.

Disney really has no good options here. If it sticks to its guns, the cast is going to be unhappy and some might even quit. That would necessitate changes to the script, which Gunn has already completed, and possibly push back production, throwing a big wrench into Marvel’s well-scheduled machine.

More importantly, it would also disappoint a lot of fans. Fans are fickle, especially fans of these kinds of movies. One of the things that Marvel has excelled at thus far is staying true to the characters from the comics and not watering things down as they go for a general audience. Ditching even one member of the cast in mid-stream could become the moment fans turn on the studio. And if someone else follows Bautista’s lead and quite the film, that multiplies the problem. Can you lose two actors without scrapping the script entirely and starting over? The bottom line is this: If the fans turn on your movie, it’s likely to fail. Check out the disappointing box office results for Solo to see how that looks.

There’s also something else to consider. Chris Pratt is a big star, one Disney would like to hire for other projects in the future. Even if Pratt remains a professional and finishes the 3rd Guardians film with another director, he could decide not to work with Disney again on something new and that could hurt them.

On the other hand, if Disney does reverse itself, you can bet that those James Gunn tweets will be brought up at the next shareholders meeting. Do the bigwigs at Disney really want to risk trashing their kid-friendly brand by defending a guy who made jokes about pedophilia? That’s a tough ask. I think it’s already clear the suits aren’t willing to take a hit like that for James Gunn and not for Dave Bautista either. But for Marvel and Chris Pratt? That’s a very different question.

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