Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad director James Gunn is usually fairly sharp on Twitter, but he’s had a rare off-day wading into a discussion about Eternals, regarding whether Marvel scripts need to be approved in advance by the Pentagon.
That the military-industrial complex works with Marvel Studios isn’t so much a conspiracy theory as a documented fact. Captain Marvel and Black Panther, to name two examples, were used in recruitment campaigns for the Air Force and CIA respectively. Nonetheless, Gunn said:
Marvel scripts are not all approved by the Pentagon. Where do people come up with this nonsense?
To be fair, this is technically true. Only films that use military assets (generally vehicles) need to submit their scripts for approval. Yet, that encompasses the majority of MCU movies. Gunn quickly backpedaled:
When a film uses military assets for free those specific scripts have to get military approval to make sure the military isn’t disparaged. This is very few films — and, from what I know, the military is pretty loose about it.
One factor that may be in play is that Gunn’s interstellar Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy doesn’t use any real military hardware, so he’s telling the truth when he says his movies have never been through this process. However, he doesn’t seem happy about being proved wrong, dismissing without argument a user who simply began listing MCU movies depicting military vehicles before hitting Twitter’s character limit.
It should be said that just because a script is rubberstamped by the U.S. military doesn’t necessarily make it explicit propaganda. However, the process existing at all puts soft pressure on studios to make movies that don’t criticize the military. After all, it costs a lot of money to use real military hardware on screen, so there’s a strong economic incentive in keeping the Pentagon happy and getting them for free.
This even extends to Pentagon representatives being present on set and pushing for changes as the movies are filmed. USO Magazine outlined one particularly heated exchange between Defence Department Hollywood liaison Phil Strub and Jon Favreau on the set of Iron Man:
“In the script, one military officer told another that people would “kill themselves for the opportunities he has.” Strub said he didn’t like the line and made recommendations. It was no shock the director didn’t like the suggestion.
“It never got resolved until we were in the middle of filming,” Strub said. “Now we’re on the flight lines at Edwards Air Force Base (California), and there’s 200 people, and [the director] and I are having an argument about this. He’s getting redder and redder in the face and I’m getting just as annoyed.”
That said, Marvel Studios have pushed back in the past. When reviewing The Avengers, the Pentagon was unhappy about the U.S. military being shown as subordinate to S.H.I.E.L.D.:
“We couldn’t reconcile the unreality of this international organization and our place in it. To whom did S.H.I.E.L.D. answer? Did we work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? We hit that roadblock and decided we couldn’t do anything”
Marvel stuck to their guns, Pentagon assistance was duly revoked, and all military hardware in The Avengers was CGI. It’s a rare insight into how this process works, though it clearly didn’t ruin their ongoing relationship.
Perhaps not the best day for James Gunn on social media then. Let’s hope he goes back to fun threads about production trivia soon.