How Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Beginning Phase 4 Would’ve Changed The MCU

Marvel Studios' original plans had Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 start Phase 4, and this would have dramatically changed the movie and Marvel Cinematic Universe if it happened. The third and final entry in James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy finally arrived in theaters in May 2023 as the second film of Phase 5 in the Multiverse Saga. The film took much longer to get made than expected considering it was originally confirmed to be in development in 2017. This is because Guardians of the Galaxy 3 was delayed several years due to James Gunn's firing and rehiring, which meant it was pushed back to accommodate his schedule.
Before Disney fired James Gunn, the writer-director was prepping so Guardians of the Galaxy 3 could be the first MCU movie in Phase 4. He was quite clear about the intention for the movie to be out in theaters in May 2020. His firing changed the trajectory of the MCU in several ways. A chain reaction of moves led to Black Widow being the first MCU Phase 4 movie, while the launch of Disney+ enabled WandaVision to be the first Phase 4 release in early 2021. However, an alternate universe exists where Guardians of the Galaxy 3 starts Phase 4 as intended and changes the MCU.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Beginning Phase 4 Would Put A Focus On Space If Guardians of the Galaxy 3 was the first Phase 4 movie as planned, Marvel Studios would have launched the post-Avengers: Endgame narrative with a definitive focus on space. This is a drastically different way to begin Phase 4 than what Marvel Studios ultimately did. The movie introduces a new Guardians of the Galaxy team led by Rocket and sets up Star-Lord to return for more adventure, allowing more cosmic stories to be told in the years to come. It is even possible that Guardians of the Galaxy 3 would have changed Marvel Studios' entire plans, allowing them to lean into a more galactic story before doing the Multiverse Saga.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Would Begin Phase 4 On A Stronger Note Marvel's Phase 4 movie slate proved to be a bit more divisive than expected, as films either underperformed at the box office or did not receive quite as glowing reviews as the MCU had developed a pattern of receiving. This has led to growing criticisms that superhero fatigue, or more specifically MCU fatigue, is setting in for audiences. However, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 starting Phase 4 would mean a stronger beginning of this new chapter for the MCU. The movie has earned strong reviews and has been heralded as arguably Marvel's best movie since Avengers: Endgame.
If the trilogy capper wasn't delayed, it could have been an early example that the MCU magic is still in effect even as the original Avengers exit and the Infinity Saga's story ends. With an 82% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, Guardians of the Galaxy 3's reviews are more positive than Black Widow and a handful of other Phase 4 releases. Seeing as how the movie builds directly off the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, similar to Spider-Man: Far From Home, there is even a sense that Gunn's third film could have been even more well-received through this lens.
Releasing Right After Endgame Could Have Made Guardians 3 Even More Emotional Guardians of the Galaxy 3 being the first MCU Phase 4 movie might have also changed the emotional impact of the film for the better. The original plan would have seen Gunn bring an end to the trilogy just one year after Avengers: Endgame hit theaters and killed Iron Man and Black Widow, had Captain America retire, and more. Since Guardians of the Galaxy 3's ending says goodbye to the Guardians of the Galaxy team as the MCU has known it, Marvel forcing audiences to once again see beloved characters exit the franchise would likely be even more heartbreaking coming so soon after Avengers: Endgame doing the same.


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