James Gunn participates in the Marvel Studios’ Live-Action presentation at San Diego Comic-Con on July 23, 2022.

James Gunn Once Again Proves the DCU Is in Good Hands

James Gunn, the new co-head of DC Studios, is hard at work building out his new superhero universe—and he’s already promising not to repeat one of Marvel’s most irritating habits.

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Gunn told fans that he doesn’t plan to engage in “cameo porn” after defending the large cast of his first DC film, the upcoming Superman: Legacy.

“Finally someone who treats characters more than just *having character appear on screen for 10 seconds to mark a checkbox*,” one fan told Gunn on Threads.

“I call that “Cameo Porn” and it has been one of the worst elements of recent superhero films,” Gunn responded. “If a character is in film, they have to have a reason to be there story-wise.” In a followup post, he added, “I don’t mind actual cameos – if it’s a glimpse or a moment, an Easter egg. What bothers me is when they mangle an elegant story by shoehorning characters in – they aren’t there because the story calls for it, but for some other reason.”

Cameo porn! Now there’s an evocative phrase. And it’s true. Take The Marvels, for instance. That film included a cameo from one of my very favorite Marvel characters, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). I jumped out of my seat when I saw her in the final trailer for the film. But when I watched the movie itself, her appearance felt forced and made absolutely no sense in the story. It was cool that she used her two seconds of screen time to hint at a romantic relationship with Carol (Brie Larson), but an actual exploration of that relationship would have made for an infinitely better film. As it was, Valkyrie’s cameo just felt unsatisfying.

Then there’s the increasingly grating issue of surprise cameos. Navigating Marvel spoilers has become a minefield for fans, critics, journalists, and actors alike. Comic book movies have become really stressful! If the entire surprise is that a character exists, that might mean the story itself isn’t pulling enough weight. My enjoyment of a movie has never been diminished just because I knew who was in it.

Not that Marvel hasn’t done some great cameos over the years. I still remember the delight I felt waaaaaay back when I saw X-Men, and I was able to pick out characters I recognized at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Those cameos made sense. It’s a school for mutants—of course some recognizable mutants would be there! The film wasn’t preceded by months of drama during which Andrew Garfield had to lie to reporters. (Or maybe it was, and I was too blissfully ignorant to notice.) And Thor’s appearance at the end of Doctor Strange? It made sense, set up one of the next Marvel films, and made for a great scene. That’s how you do it.

James Gunn knows how to handle large casts

Of all the Marvel movies that came out in 2023, Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was my favorite by far. Why? Because story came first. Like its predecessors, GotG3 features a large ensemble cast, but every character feels real and likable. Everyone has their own personality, and everyone’s story arc feels satisfying. I left the theater mulling over the endings of multiple characters. It’s a pretty impressive feat of storytelling.

Superman: Legacy has a similarly large cast, including David Corenswet as Superman, Rachel Brosnahan as Lois Lane, Nicholas Hoult as Lex Luthor, Skyler Gisondo as Jimmy Olsen, Edi Gathegi as Mister Terrific, Isabela Merced as Hawkgirl, Anthony Carrigan as Metamorpho, and Nathan Fillion as Guy Gardner. That’s a lot of stars all in one movie—but if anyone can handle it, it’s Gunn.

(featured image: Jesse Grant, Getty Images for Disney)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>