Marvel Studios has shocked the world with the effectiveness of their "shared universe" franchise planning. With each new story produced it feels like they are not only adding to a bigger whole, but also making steps towards a predetermined future. In order to get this done, one would think that there's a certain rigidity to the creative process, but the truth is that's not necessarily the case.
Speaking with Comic Book Resources about shared universes being the most popular trend in modern Hollywood - something that he very recently criticized - Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has noted that there is actually more flexibility within the Marvel Studios system than most fans probably realize. Discussing the fact that he works within the most popular shared universe system operating in the industry today, the filmmaker noted that there is definitely an outline that exists for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that the limitations are actually not that strict from a storytelling perspective. Said Gunn,
You plan for the best, but never at the sake of what's directly in front of you. That's really all it is. Kevin Feige taught me that early on. I remember, there was this point in time when I was like, 'Ugh, this thing about Thanos isn't working.' And Kevin was like, "We're never going to hurt the story of the movie in front of us for the sake of the long haul. We're always going to have faith that we'll be able to work out those problems down the line.'"
James Gunn went on to note that he believes this is the real key to Marvel Studios' success thus far, "never willing to sacrifice the present film for the sake of this supposed overall picture that they have."
What it basically sounds like is that Marvel Studios has a good awareness of the big checkpoints that have to be reached, but that filmmakers are honestly given a good amount of freedom to make the best movie that they can. Of course, it's worth noting that there have still been a good number of "creative differences" between Marvel and various directors over the years - including Jon Favreau and most recently Edgar Wright - but perhaps the comic book company has turned a corner in that department. Or perhaps James Gunn's singular experience with the studio is just working extraordinarily well.
We only saw the release of Guardians of the Galaxy a few months ago, but already we are highly anticipating the release of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which is set to come out in 2017 with James Gunn once again writing and directing. Given that the sequel will be coming out just a year before the first half of the massive Avengers: Infinity War, one imagines that Gunn will have to play Marvel's game a little bit in the upcoming movie - but exactly how far that will go remains to be seen.