'Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3' Will Be The Final Film In The Series, But Don't Say Goodbye To Groot Just Yet
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

We're still a few weeks away from the release of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, but fans are probably already wondering about the franchise's future. The good news is, filmmaker James Gunn is here with answers; the bad news is,he told Entertainment Weekly that Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 will be the last film in the series, making GOTG a trilogy.

Gunn — who wrote and directed both prior films — announced the conclusion of the GOTG saga on his Facebook page, at the same time he announced that he would officially be returning to write and direct Vol. 3. "I can't fricking wait to get started," he wrote before spilling the beans about his franchise's impending swan song.

Read Gunn's full statement below.

For avid followers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2008's Iron Man kicked off Phase 1, a lingering question has always been: what happens after the Infinity War? The entire meta-plot of the MCU has been gradually building towards the conflict between the Avengers and the supervillain Thanos over the six so-called Infinity Stones. But that conflict will be over after next year's Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's untitled fourth Avengers film… and there's no clear answer yet as to what comes after.

What will Phase 4 of the MCU be about? Of course, we still don't know what will replace Thanos as the shared universe's driving narrative force; but at least we finally have confirmation of which franchise will help launch it. Just as Robert Downey, Jr.'s Tony Stark kickstarted the first three phases of the MCU (with Iron Man, 2013's Iron Man 3, and as the other half of the titular conflict in 2016's Captain America: Civil War), it appears that Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and Drax will help reboot the MCU after the Infinity War comes to an end.

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The fact that GOTG will be the seed from which the rest of Phase 4 will grow should give us a pretty good idea of where that phase is headed. Although the MCU started relatively "grounded" (as much as that word can be applied to the superhero genre, of course), it has started to become increasingly fantastical, not just with the introduction of the Guardians, but also entries like Doctor Strange and the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok. If Peter Quill is the new Tony Stark, then that should tell us that the MCU is just going to keep getting weirder and weirder.

But what's exciting news for the MCU in general is potentially troubling news for GOTG3 specifically. That film will have to serve as both the final entry in its own franchise, as well as the jumping-off point for a brand new phase of the MCU's existence; that's a heck of a lot of responsibility for one movie to shoulder by itself. Will it also have to bear the burden of killing off one or more of its heroes, considering Vol. 3 will apparently "conclude the story" all three films have been telling?

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Not necessarily. Perhaps the most interesting part of Gunn's statement is that GOTG3 will "help catapult both old and new Marvel characters into the next 10 years and beyond." That seems to imply that, although the Guardians' time together may be at an end after Vol. 3, even if the group breaks up, the characters will still be major players in the MCU as they perhaps join other teams or co-star in franchises other than their own. (Think of how Iron Man remains a pivotal presence in Phase 3 even without an actual Iron Man 4, with the character playing a role in both Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming in addition to the Avengers films.)

So what popular storyline could GOTG3 kickstart for Phase 4? There are plenty of crossover events in the comics that Marvel Studios could choose to adapt — Secret Wars, Avengers Disassembled, Avengers vs. X-Men (if only) — but perhaps the one that makes the most sense, knowing that GOTG3 will launch it, is Secret Invasion. In that recent series, which ran in 2008-'09, it was revealed that several superheroes had previously been replaced by Skrulls as part of a long-term plan to invade Earth. Given all the varied alien species that the Guardians run into during their adventures, it would be easy plant the seed for this slow-burn story during Vol. 3.

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Of course, before we get to Vol. 3 we still have Vol. 2 coming up next month; and knowing that it's the middle of a close-ended trilogy probably means fans will go in expecting the Empire Strikes Back of the Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise. Just, you know, with more talking raccoons and troublemaking trees.