by Ian Carlos Crawford
For a superhero movie that has a team roster with the likes of a talking racoon, a sentient tree, a telekinetic Golden Retriever with a Russian accent, and a blue cyborg woman to name just a few, Guardians of The Galaxy Volume 3 really brings the emotions.
The James Gunn-helmed Guardians of the Galaxy series exists within the Marvel Cinematic Universe but has always felt quite separate from the rest of the Marvel heroes we know. They have only interacted with the Avengers and co during the big crossover movies Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. It’s what has made the movies feel like such a standout — the team is relegated to Star Wars type adventures in space while proving why friendship is indeed magic.
What also makes the Guardians of the Galaxy movies standout in the MCU is that they are all about chosen family. These are not coworkers like The Avengers or some organization run by Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury. They are a band of misfits that just happen to have come together in the first film…and then stuck together.
The third (and supposedly final) film in the trilogy doesn’t have a world ending villain — the film centers around beloved anthropomorphic racoon, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), on the verge of death and the group banding together to save him. Plenty of whacky adventures ensue , sure, but at the heart this movie is about this family running to beat the clock and save the life of one of their own.
It’s not exactly reinventing the wheel but it doesn’t have to be — the emotional beats all land so well, as do the needle drops, that this new installment feels like a breath of fresh air after the clunkers like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Thor: Love and Thunder, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and The Eternals. This team consists of character who all seem to really, genuinely care about one another. They also develop as characters — what a notion!
Nebula (Karen Gillan) started out as a villain out to get revenge on her sister Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), then became a reluctant ally, then member of the team, and now she’s become one of the leaders of the group who genuinely loves her teammates. Peter Quill aka The Legendary Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) has always been the jokey leader of the group but in this movie we see just how depressed he is from the loss (and semi return — it’s long story) of the love of his life, Gamora. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) goes from reluctant sidekick to outgoing hero — who also happens to be Star-Lord’s sister. The whole gang gets development!
The superhero team most queer nerds (like me) tend to gravitate towards is X-Men, a comic all about chosen family and being outcasts. While we did get a series of X-Men movies from Fox that (thankfully) ended within the last few years, they were barely about found family and felt very much like watered down versions of the comics. Guardians of the Galaxy very much gets right what those X-Men movies got wrong. These characters care about each other not just as teammates. They even repurposed a floating dead god’s head into a planet/space station that they run together. They literally built a new home together and have taken in plenty of other folks. They listen to a lot of the same music. Star-Lord even refers to Rocket as his best friend.
The team sells their little alt family in every movie but especially in this third installment. The movie opens with an extra emotional acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep” blasting as the team goes through the motions of their everyday life. We see them all taking care of not only their new little home but also the depressed Peter Quill who is drinking away his sorrows. It’s so mundane yet emotional — the opening tells us this is a team of folks who love one another. Then enters newcomer Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) to attack their home and nearly kill half the team and fatally wounding Rocket, which sets the team off on a quest to save his life. They basically go on a suicide mission just to save their beloved furry friend. They face Nathan Fillion in a weird puffy space suit, plenty of talking animals, a golden goddess, a cybernetic pig named War Pig (voiced by Judy Greer), and the main villain High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). They encounter near death experiences at almost every turn, yet giving up is never ever an option for them. They are all ride or die for each other.
The movie pulls at your heartstrings both with musical cues and with some of the best MCU storytelling in years. There is a moment when you think all is lost and we see half the characters crying over another one and it’s so upsetting and so clear these characters all have such a familial love for each other. It’s something queer folks can absolutely relate to — these characters have all basically grown up with terrible families, suffered unthinkable trauma or are just loners looking for a real home. Their love feels so real.
But the most emotional chosen family moments come in the form of the Rocket flashbacks. We see how terrible he was treated by High Evolutionary, who experimented on a ton of other animals before “perfecting” his experiments with the help of Rocket. These animals are in adjacent cages and all bond and create fun where they can get it. It feels like a children’s book for adults but in the best way. But also, since we know Rocket was a loner before joining the Guardians, aside from his tree friend Groot (Vin Diesel), we spend most of their scenes waiting for the sad part and when it comes it’s a doozy.
This movie is one of the few MCU movies that will resonate with queer folks. This team isn’t just a team but a family — there is no Guardians of the Galaxy: Civil War for a reason. We’ve watched these characters grow and change throughout their 3 movies, 1 holiday special, and involvement in the crossover films. These characters bicker, they fight but they all love each other — and that’s the thing that sets this trilogy above other Marvel movies.
About the Author:
Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and has an MFA in non-fiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, Junkee, and other random corners of the internet. He currently hosts a queer Buffy and Marvel focused pop culture podcast called Slayerfest 98 and co-hosts a horror podcast called My Bloody Judy. Follow him on Twitter @ianxcarlos!