SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments and the post-credits scenes in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” currently playing in theaters.
By this point, it’s no secret that Marvel Studios has lost some of its luster in its post-“Avengers: Endgame” era. Between the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s rapid expansion on Disney+ and the exits of stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and the late Chadwick Boseman, the Marvel saga has often felt at once too much and not enough: Sprawl without a center.
It’s a problem that “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is particularly ill-equipped to address. For one, the film is wholly disconnected from everything else that’s happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-“Endgame” — there’s not a whisper of Kang or the multiverse or incursions or Talokan or, hilariously, Thor, even though the Guardians made a special appearance in “Thor: Love and Thunder” last summer. For another, the Guardians themselves — at least, as audiences have grown to know and love them — are also leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe, between stars Zoe Saldaña and Dave Bautista making clear they’re finished with their respective roles, and writer-director James Gunn departing Marvel to co-run DC Studios with Peter Safran.
These are, to be clear, great assets for the movie itself, imbuing “Vol. 3” with a sense of creative freedom and melancholy that Marvel titles have rarely enjoyed. And in fairness, the film doesn’t snap the Guardians completely either. In the first post-credits scene, audiences see that Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) has stepped in 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 gets his own shaggy post-credits scene following his reunion with his human grandfather (Gregg Henry) back on Earth, in which they banter over cereal and why a neighbor’s adult son won’t mow her lawn for her, followed by the tag that “the Legendary Star-Lord will return.”
Charming as both of these scenes are, however, they actually only manage to contribute to a looming headache for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Over the past 21 months, Marvel has used its trademark post-credits scenes to tease as many as six — or more! — upcoming movies. They are:
• A sequel — or sequels! — to “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” that involves the titular hero (Simu Liu), the extraterrestrial origins of his titular rings and/or the remaking of the titular outlaw cabal the Ten Rings by Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang).
• A sequel to “Eternals” that involves Starfox (Harry Styles) aiding Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) to rescue their compatriots from judgement by the Celestial Arishem.
• A sequel to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” that involves Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) partnering with the sorcerer Clea (Charlize Theron) to repair an incursion within the Dark Dimension.
• A sequel to “Thor: Love and Thunder” that involves Zeus (Russell Crowe) dispatching his son Hercules (Brett Goldstein) to kill Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
• A sequel to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” that involves Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) contending with the revelation that the late T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) had a son and rightful heir to the kingdom of Wakanda.
• And now, a sequel — or sequels! — to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” that involves the newly reassembled titular Guardians and/or the exploits of Star-Lord after returning to his family on Earth.
None of these prospective feature films have been officially confirmed by Marvel Studios, nor have there been any solid reports of forward creative momentum for any of them. Nonetheless, Marvel has never been a studio to make an idle promise. Why go to all the trouble of secretly hiring Styles, Theron and Goldstein for only a 90-second cameo? For that matter, why foreshadow the mystery of Shang-Chi’s rings, or the potential of T’Challa’s noble lineage, if you’re never going to pay it off? Why end “Guardians Vol. 3” with the tag line “the Legendary Star-Lord will return” if, you know, he won’t?
Here’s where things get tricky: Marvel chief Kevin Feige has made clear that “Avengers: Secret Wars” will conclude the Multiverse Saga in much the same way “Avengers: Endgame” finished the Infinity Saga — and, to date, there are only three open release dates for Marvel properties before “Secret Wars” is set to premiere on May 1, 2026. (Those dates are July 25, 2025, Nov. 26, 2025 and Feb 13, 2026.)
Of course, some of the aforementioned “sequels” could end up being pulled into the events of “Secret Wars” and its antecedent, 2025’s “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.” Others might become part of a Disney+ show, instead. But the overall effect remains too much too muchness, like a kid who keeps stacking up a tower of toy blocks without worrying whether they may, eventually, topple over. With “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” almost certain to lose money, and superhero fatigue hitting the box office in general, Marvel had better hope that, to borrow a lyric from the first “Guardians” soundtrack, things are gonna get easier — and soon.