When I exited the movie theater after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 on Thursday night, I breathed a sigh of relief. Despite a growing pile of evidence to the contrary, Marvel Studios is still capable of putting out great movies. James Gunn’s trilogy-capper is the most exciting MCU entry since Spider-Man: No Way Home and the most emotionally impactful since Avengers: Endgame. This is worth celebrating, even if Gunn is leaving the MCU for good.
Unfortunately, Guardians Vol. 3 did not succeed by leaning into the messy multiversal malaise of the current saga. Quite the contrary. This sequel works so well because it completely ignores the rest of the MCU in favor of its characters and their stories.
Therein lies the issue with the Multiverse Saga — Marvel failed to lay a strong foundation before diving headfirst into its next existential threat.
Why Guardians Vol. 3 ignores the multiverse
The Infinity Saga worked as well as it did because Marvel took its time establishing the universe and its heroes before introducing a villain powerful enough to force them to band together. In the comics, Captain America, Iron Man, and Wolverine aren’t battling Thanos every week — they’re living their lives, building relationships, and joking around with friends. It can’t be the end of the world every week; readers would be exhausted.
For several years, Marvel Studios seemed to understand this. Of course, the stakes have to be higher in a $300 million movie than in a 32-page comic book issue, but the entire MCU doesn’t need to revolve around a single concept or villain for years on end.
We need breaks, but those breaks can be as bombastic, explosive, and dramatic as Vol. 3.
Knowing that Gunn had written the script for Guardians Vol. 3 before Infinity War and Endgame even came out — prior to his temporary firing in 2018 — it’s likely more of a coincidence that the movie doesn’t make any overt references to the multiverse. What’s not a coincidence is that the lack of multiverse made this one of the best movies of the Multiverse Saga.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is too concerned with delivering a stellar send-off for this lovable bunch of a-holes while simultaneously unfurling the tragic backstory of a bionic raccoon to spend any time worrying about what the Council of Kangs is up to.
Meanwhile, although the Vol. 3 villain isn’t nearly as consequential as Thanos or Kang, the High Evolutionary is precisely what a comic book baddie is supposed to be — evil! He sucks! We hate him because he does awful things, and we want to see our heroes kick his ass!
James Gunn knows how to make a great comic book movie because he knows what to include and — more importantly — what to leave out. That’s what has me so concerned about the next four years of the MCU as Gunn leaves to reboot the DCU.
Can Marvel undo its biggest mistake?
Providing the Secret Wars of the MCU looks anything like the 2015-16 Secret Wars comic book storyline of the same name, Marvel might have already spoiled the fun of this massive crossover event. For the uninitiated, in the comics, the Illuminati (the same group we met in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, just not murdered by Scarlet Witch) saw the impending end of the multiverse and attempted to stop it. Meanwhile, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Deadpool, and the rest of the Marvel universe went about their business.
Barring any delays, we’re three years away from the release of Avengers: Secret Wars, and yet nearly every show and movie is focused on Kang and the multiverse. It’s too much. The strength of the Infinity Saga was its balance between individual story arcs and the overarching plot, which slowly bubbled up in the background before erupting in Infinity War.
The question is whether or not Marvel has enough time to course-correct the Multiverse Saga. We know the studio plans to slow down the pace of its release schedule, which should help to alleviate some of the superhero fatigue that many of us are feeling. But fewer releases will not improve the MCU if they’re all just as messy and soulless as many of the shows and movies in Phase 4 were. Marvel Studios needs to give creators the freedom to tell complete stories and save the big crossover events for the big crossover movies.
At the very least, I’m hopeful that the wildly divergent reactions to Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 force the studio to take a long, hard look at its current strategy and rethink the future of the MCU.