SPOILER ALERT: This story covers key plot developments and post-credits scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, currently in theaters.
At this point, it’s no secret that Marvel Studios has lost some of its luster in the post-Avengers: Endgame era. Between the rapid expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe on Disney+ and the departures of stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, and the late Chadwick Boseman, the Marvel saga often felt simultaneously too much and too little: sprawl without a center.
It’s a problem that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is particularly ill-equipped to deal with. For one thing, the film is completely detached from everything else that’s happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after “Endgame” – there’s no whispers of Kang or the Multiverse or Incursions or Talokan or, hilariously, Thor, although the Guardians did make a special appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder last summer. Second, the Guardians themselves – at least now that audiences have come to know and love them – leave the Marvel Cinematic Universe, between stars Zoe Saldaña and Dave Bautista, who make it clear they’re done with their respective roles, and the writer /Director James Gunn is leaving Marvel to co-direct DC Studios with Peter Safran.
These are, to put it bluntly, great benefits for the film itself, the “Vol. 3” with a sense of creative freedom and melancholy that Marvel titles have rarely enjoyed. And, in fairness, the movie doesn’t completely snag the Guardians either. In the first post-credits scene, viewers see that Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) has joined as the new leader of a reconstituted Guardians: Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), Kraglin (Sean Gunn) , Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova) and the newest addition, Phyla (Kai Zen), one of the genetically enhanced children the Guardians save from the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). (Phyla is also the name of a Marvel Comics character who was part of the Guardians, but her backstory is radically different from the character from the film.)
Even Peter Quill, after being reunited with his human grandfather (Gregg Henry) on Earth, gets his own shaggy post-credits scene of them joking about cereal and why a neighbor’s grown son won’t mow her lawn for them, followed by the Tag that “the legendary Star-Lord will return”.
As charming as these two scenes are, they actually only manage to add to the looming headache for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the past 21 months, Marvel has used its signature post-credits scenes to shoot up to six — or more! – upcoming movies. They are:
• A sequel – or sequels! – to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which explores the titular hero (Simu Liu), the alien origins of his titular rings, and/or the re-imagining of the titular outlaw cabal, The Ten Rings, by Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing goes (Meng’er Zhang).
• A sequel to Eternals, in which Starfox (Harry Styles) helps Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) save their countrymen from the judgment of Heavenly Arishem.
• A sequel to Doctor Strange in the Mad Multiverse, in which Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) works with sorceress Clea (Charlize Theron) to repair an incursion into the Dark Dimension.
• A sequel to Thor: Love and Thunder, in which Zeus (Russell Crowe) sends his son Hercules (Brett Goldstein) to kill Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
• A sequel to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, in which Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) clash over the revelation that the late T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) had a son and the rightful heir to the kingdom wakanda
• And now a sequel – or sequels! – to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, about the newly assembled titular Guardians and/or Star-Lord’s exploits after returning to his family on Earth.
Neither of these prospective feature films have been officially confirmed by Marvel Studios, nor have there been solid reports of forward creative momentum for any of them. Still, Marvel has never been a studio that makes empty promises. Why bother secretly hiring Styles, Theron, and Goldstein for just a 90-second cameo? Why anticipate the mystery of Shang-Chi’s rings or the potential of T’Challa’s noble lineage when you’ll never pay it off? Why Guardians Vol. 3 with the slogan “The Legendary Star-Lord Will Return” if it doesn’t?
This is where it gets tricky: Marvel boss Kevin Feige has clarified that Avengers: Secret Wars will end the Multiverse saga the same way Avengers: Endgame ended the Infinity saga — and to date, there’s only three Open release dates for Marvel products ahead of the May 1, 2026 premiere of Secret Wars. (These dates are July 25, 2025, November 26, 2025, and February 13, 2026.)
Of course, some of the above “sequels” could be drawn into the events of Secret Wars and its 2025 predecessor, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Others could instead become part of a Disney+ show. But the overall effect remains too much too much, like a child who keeps piling up a tower of building blocks without worrying about whether they might eventually fall over. With Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania almost certainly going to lose money and superhero fatigue hitting the box office across the board, Marvel had better hope that things will get simpler around lyrics from the first Guardians soundtrack to borrow – etc.
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