After being indefinitely delayed, it appears that Marvel doesn't expect to get around to making Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for several years. On the face of it, this is only a problem if you're a serious Guardians of the Galaxy fan and were looking forward to the third installment. However, in the broader scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is potentially a much bigger deal. While Marvel has said little about what Phase Four was going to be all about, the studio had said Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was going to set the stage for the entire next phase, so if the movie isn't going to be out until 2022 or later, what does that say about Phase Four?
In short, it says that Phase Four probably isn't going to be what we've expected it to be. We certainly don't expect the MCU to go on a hiatus until 2022, so we'll likely see several Marvel movies released in between Spider-Man: Far From Home and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Phase Four will be well underway before we see Star-Lord, Rocket and the rest again.
However, if that means Guardians Vol. 3 won't be there to launch to the MCU into Phase Four, then the cosmic focus that we've been told the new phase will have may not become a reality at all. There hasn't been any indication that we'll get another Thor movie anytime soon and it's equally unlikely we'll be jumping that quickly into a Captain Marvel sequel. There just aren't a lot of other cosmic heroes available to take the place of the Guardians.
The thing is, if Marvel wanted to, they could almost certainly get Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 off the ground at or near its original release date if they made that a priority. They have a script, written by James Gunn before his unceremonious dismissal, and all indications have been that the plan was to use that script. Finding a director shouldn't actually be that hard. This is Marvel. There's likely a line out the door of people interested in being part of the MCU.
Even if Marvel decided to go back to formula, get a new script, hire a new director, and recast an angry Dave Bautista, it still wouldn't take them two and a half years to be ready to go into production. This extensive delay seems odd. Why would Marvel know, right now, that Guardians wasn't going to begin shooting until 2021? It would seem this is an intentional decision the studio has made to wait. So why are they doing it?
Just today, it was announced that Disney's Jungle Cruise movie was essentially taking over a release window where an Untitled Marvel movie had been set. That film has been taken off the calendar and not given a new date, so the current MCU schedule isn't just being shifted around, it appears to be going through real change. Jungle Cruise is an untested property that has now been given a prime summer release date. It could be that Disney is just very high on Dwayne Johnson's new movie and wanted to give it a bigger date than next October, or it could be that Disney needed to fill that hole with something because the Marvel movie needed to be pulled, and it was available.
The issue isn't just that Phase Four may be changing because Guardians Vol. 3 has been delayed, It's that Guardians Vol. 3 may be delayed because Phase Four is changing.
The fact that the Disney/Fox merger may be finalized by the first of the year can't be ignored here. When James Gunn originally said he was hanging around after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 to make a third film and work on Phase Four as well, the idea of getting back the X-Men and the Fantastic Four was far from being a reality. However, when Marvel Studios had to sit down and figure out what to do after letting James Gunn go, it was a real thing that was happening. If there was a time to reconsider the way forward, this was it.
Perhaps, after looking at the situation, Kevin Feige and company decided that with the future of the Guardians franchise in question, they needed to just shift gears entirely. Keeping the MCU more Earth based, at least for a while, would be safer, but with new characters on the way, it could still be made to feel fresh and new, something distinct from the previous phase.
If the decision was made to include mutants or the Reed family in Phase Four, then at that point you actually want to move Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 further down the line. You want the first films of the new phase to set this stage and Guardians isn't necessarily the franchise you want to do that.
While there's a lot we don't know regarding the films that Marvel is planning to put out in Phase Four, the ones that have been strongly rumored so far are a Black Widow movie and Black Panther 2. Neither is particularly cosmic.
There is another reason that you might want to move Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to as late as possible. If any of the rumors were true that there were some within Marvel who wanted to give James Gunn a second chance, the odds of that actually happening go up the longer we wait. After a few years, it could be announced that James Gunn has "learned his lesson" and he and Disney have reconciled. I don't honestly believe that will happen, but it could happen.
Of course, all this is supposition that is based on a rumor, so it's possible the premise is faulty. If it is true, however, that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is no longer going to be the launchpad it once was, then clearly something else will be, and it will likely send us someplace entirely different within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.