James Gunn, and the cameo porn debate

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DC chief James Gunn recently slated modern superhero films for including far too many cameos. We have some thoughts… 


Spoilersfollow for The Marvels, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, The Flash. 


When a new superhero film is approaching its release date or a new trailer is released, I’ve noticed myself asking the exact same question every single time.  “Do you think (insert random character from a similar film here) will show up?”

Or sometimes I go a bit broader and ask, “who do you think will show up?” and then I’ll spend the next 20 minutes weighing up which characters could potentially make a short appearance in a film that has absolutely no use for them. 

James Gunn, the director of Marvel’s Guardians Of The Galaxy and DC Studios’ new chief, recently took to Threads to discuss what he calls “cameo porn” with fans. The director isn’t opposed to cameos, though. 

guardians of the galaxy vol 2
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Credit: Disney

“That’s fine if it doesn’t disrupt the story,” Gunn said of the matter. “It’s the plot contrivances that develop from a cameo, not the cameo itself.”

Another user pointed out that an actor might appear on screen for mere seconds and it just checks a box for the studio. 

“I call that ‘Cameo Porn’ and it has been one of the worst elements of recent superhero films,” replied Gunn. “If a character is in film, they have to have a reason to be there story-wise.”

Gunn isn’t a stranger to using cameos. David Hasselhoff shows up in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, for example. Kurt Russell plays Ego, a living planet who also happens to be Peter Quill’s father. He briefly adopts the form of David Hasselhoff, the childhood hero of Peter’s to point out how powerful he is and how he searched for the optimal form to present himself to his son. (There’s no mention of how much he looks like Kurt Russell though.) 

The Hasselhoff cameo was particularly well done. Peter speaks of his love for Knight Rider, which famously starred Hasselhoff. Although I’m a Baywatch kind of gal myself, Ego adopting the form of Hasselhoff makes perfect, narrative sense. Hasselhoff’s cameo, which only lasts a few seconds, feeds into the emotional stakes of the scene.

Compare this to The Flash, in which Nicolas Cage appears briefly as Superman in a parallel universe. Much has already been said and written about that scene and the multiple cameos in it, but all it really amounts to is a cool gimmick. Cage was supposed to star in Tim Burton’s Superman film once upon a time, but the project never materialised. 

Seeing Cage in the iconic costume (with more than a little help from CGI) was an undoubtedly cool moment, but it made no difference to the narrative. The motivation to do so came presumably from giving fans what they yearned for – or at least what director Andy Muschietti thought they wanted. 

On top of all that, Cage has been pretty open about what he filmed for The Flash versus what we saw on screen, and it’s not exactly encouraging. Although Cage seems pretty cool about it all, it’s a worrying trend.

In a similar vein to Cage’s Superman cameo, John Krasinski shows up as Reed Richards in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. It’s a prime example of fan casting; fans had been suggesting Krasinski for the part for years, so Sam Raimi went and got him for it. Krasinski’s part is a little meatier than Cage’s, though, as he gets a couple of lines before being mowed down by Wanda in her rage. 

The Flash
The Flash. Credit: Warner Bros.

Marvel is arguably one of the worst offenders of cameo porn. Next year’s only Marvel film will be Deadpool 3, and while we know little of the premise or plot, the film is constantly trending on social media, mostly thanks to rumours and leaks from the set. 

We do know that the film will touch on the multiverse, which at this point just seems like a handy way for Marvel to cram in as many cameos as possible regardless of whether the characters are alive or dead on the main timeline. 

One of the speculated cameos for Deadpool 3 is Channing Tatum as Gambit. The part was played by Taylor Kitsch in X-Men Origins: Wolverine; Tatum was later cast in the same role for the character’s solo outing, but the film was ultimately cancelled. 

It seems like exactly the kind of cameo that Marvel loves, but nothing has been confirmed. Other character cameos that are rumoured for Deadpool 3 are Charles Xavier, Doctor Doom, Daredevil and strangely, Taylor Swift as Dazzler. 

If Deadpool 3 ends up being a festival of cameos, that’s fine, as long as they make narrative sense. The Marvels recently introduced the X-Men into the main MCU timeline by simply including Kelsey Grammer’s Beast in a post-credits scene. It’s another frustrating stinger which feels pretty vital for the bigger Marvel picture, but shouldn’t such a big reveal be part of the film’s actual narrative? 

The line between fan service and decent writing has become increasingly thin in recent years, but Gunn is a prime example of a director who can handle cameos well and knows what he’s talking about. From his mouth to studio executives’ ears. 

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