The James Gunn Debacle

Over the last few months, I’ve tried to write this column a couple of times and each time I’ve kind of shied away from it. I’m not entirely sure why either. I understand that the political climate as of late is hostile, at best, and I wasn’t looking for any of that backlash. There was a part of me that thought this column couldn’t be written without being political and I Am Geek just isn’t that site. But we are a site that covers pop culture and the news that surrounds it so me saying nothing about the Marvel/Disney James Gunn debacle seemed kind of odd. Especially considering how much I love the MCU.

Here’s the thing, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite franchise in the MCU. That’s a fact. Vol. 1 is in my top five favorite movies and I’m not sorry about that. I mentioned this way back in the early episodes of the I Am Geek Podcast, but the first Guardians film came to me in a time in life where I needed that group of characters. I was just coming to terms with the passing of my father, still had some work to do, but watching Guardians somehow made it better. It resonated with me. A main character who was still reeling from the death of his mother and a band of misfits who just needed a family. It’s the first Marvel Studios film to make me cry, openly I might add, and kind of was the pop culture hug I needed at the time. For that, the Guardians franchise will always be special to me. I’m thankful for it in a lot of ways. I saw a lot of myself in these movies while also just having fun. A lot of emotions involved here.

I was a fan of James Gunn going in. Slither is such an underrated horror gem that hits all the right notes of gross, campy, and hysterical. Super was an effed up look at superhero life that has some scenes that have stuck with me for better or worse. His script for the Dawn of the Dead reboot provides one of my all-time favorite zombie movies. Easily. Gunn has an ability to write such incredible characters and emotion that sometimes gets lost with the gross/obscene factor of some his other films. What makes the Guardians so great is how rich in character they are. Sure, it’s a talking tree but because of the way he’s written you cry when he says “We are Groot” because Gunn has you invested. As a screenwriter, Gunn is top notch.

I’m not here to defend Gunn’s jokes on Twitter that got him fired. I found them to be incredibly distasteful and not funny. That’s the worst part, and something Gunn realizes, the comments were made to kind of cause a stir. Shock comedy was a big thing for a while. Just look at something like Family Guy who I felt was offensive for the sake of being offensive for quite some time. Now, shock comedy can’t be done the same way. I’ve been re-watching The Office lately and I can’t believe how many jokes they wouldn’t be able to get away with now. Granted, The Office is a satire but man, there are some jokes that would get it canceled in a 2018 heartbeat. It doesn’t make me love it any less, but I like to look at things through the lens of current culture.

Here’s the thing, Disney had to know who they were getting in bed with. Christ, Super is a messed up movie and they still hired him. I find it hard to believe that Disney didn’t (a) know about the Tweets or (b) hadn’t viewed any of Gunn’s previous work. I want to say that the Tweets that got Gunn fired were something he already acknowledged around 2012 (don’t quote me). Where he apologized for them being offensive and not funny. He took ownership of his mistakes and acknowledged that he grew as a person. That’s a part of life. Learning from mistakes and growing.

I understand that the MCU is a business and the current climate is hostile and bloodthirsty. Disney and Marvel Studios were painted in a very tough corner. That I can appreciate. What really bothered me about the way this was handled was there didn’t seem to be any due process. The Tweets resurfaced and just like that Gunn was gone. No discussion. No waiting period. Gone. It set an ugly precedent and a message that rubbed me the wrong way. Disney’s actions not only rewarded the trolls but made a statement that said they didn’t think people could grow or change. That part bothered me. A lot. Let’s look at the facts, Walt Disney? Not the best dude and he built your whole company. You would think if any company would take change in character into account it would be Disney. But no. What was done was done. Not to mention it goes against everything the Guardians of the Galaxy stands for. A group of misfits given a second chance at doing life right. Surely the irony couldn’t have been missed by Disney.

Again, I’m not condoning the comments. Again, they were gross and terrible. What I do believe is that people can change and should be given the opportunity to do so. Yes, I signed the petition to bring James Gunn back. Yes, I posted the cast’s excellently crafted letter. Sure, I was on social media complaining about it but at the end of the day, this was a matter that was out of my hands. When all the rumors started circulating that there was a chance Gunn could return, I foolishly got excited. Although the news that Disney was standing firm wasn’t as crushing as when the story originally broke. Disney had made up their mind and never planned on changing it.

From a selfish standpoint, I wanted these characters to get the conclusion and sendoff they deserved. Gunn had committed so much to them and had given us a gift with this franchise that I wanted to see them treated justly. I didn’t want to see someone come in with a superficial view of what the Guardians are and giving us a movie that lacked the emotional depth of the other two films. Gunn had a vision and I wanted to see it through. Felt that we as fans deserved that. Now it’s us fans who are suffering the most.

Marvels Studios has had an incredible ten-year run, I honestly can’t see what Marvel Studios has done ever being recreated. It’s that amazing. The firing of James Gunn feels like the first misstep though. Let’s put the fact that DC just hired him on hold for a second and focus what it does to the film base. Vol. 3 which was supposed to start filming early next year is now on indefinite hold with no director what so ever. Depending on what site you read Marvel is either using Gunn’s script or starting over. I’m hoping for the former but nothing is confirmed. If you’re going to use the script then why not bring him back? Keeping the script seems a way to appease some cash members (*cough* Bautista *cough*) but also as a way to not derail production that much. Disney loves making money and keeping the Guardians off the screen keeps money out of their pockets. If they use the script all they need is a director and the ball can stop rolling again.

Within the last week DC, smartly, swooped in and hired Gunn to pen their upcoming Suicide Squad movie with a chance to direct. That’s a massive blow to Marvel whether they want to admit it or not. DC films, with the exception of Wonder Woman, have been kind of dead in the water. A universe in desperate need of a facelift and now they’ve brought in a writer/director who has proven success with their biggest rival. With that writer/director comes a possible jump ship from a cast member (*cough* Bautista *cough*) and Marvel has some issues. Marvel has had such a massive stranglehold over the superhero market that it doesn’t seem fair, and it has to get under their skin that fans are excited for Gunn’s Suicide Squad. Hell, I’m excited about it as I felt that first movie was a deeply missed opportunity from DC. If I’m Marvel, I want DC’s struggles to continue but now they’ve inadvertently thrown them a life preserver.

Joe Hill Tweeted this week, “Some smart guy once said it’s the story, not the storyteller”, after Marvel fired Chuck Wendig for Tweets that were too political and contained vulgarity. I liked this quote and the idea. Just because the person does dumb things or says dumb things it doesn’t negate the story nor does it represent who they are as a person. Writers are people too and no one is perfect, but fans care mostly about the work. About the story. Once you start robbing people of that you start to run into problems. I know less about Wendig’s situation than I do about Gunn’s but I want to believe that just because there are checkered comments in someone’s past or present, it doesn’t’ mean that they’re an awful person or unredeemable. People can change and I think we should allow them to show us that they have. Everything that I had read on James Gunn from interviews and Twitter represented a person who had grown from those awful jokes. Disney failed to understand or care about that. Now one of their biggest franchises is in flux, their biggest competitor has one of their star writer/directors, cast members are voicing their displeasure, and most importantly fans are disgruntled. That’s a problem.

I just find the whole thing to be a bummer. Like I said, I just want the closure for this Guardians story that it deserves and I’m not so sure we’ll get that. And that sucks. Quite a lot. Hopefully, Vol. 3 will maintain Gunn’s voice and his impression on the series. The message within those movies is something that should bring hope and optimism that things can be turned around and made better. That you can find purpose after not having it for so long. I think we can use more of the “We are Groot” mentality right now, it sure beats the alternative.


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