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What is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 about?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 puts major emphasis on burying the past in order to move forward into next chapters. Peter, Rocket, Gamora, and High Evolutionary all have historic hang ups that they have to confront over the course of the film. It’s hard to not think about Vol. 3 in context of writer/director James Gunn and this being his final film with Marvel. He’s now co-chairman and co-CEO of DC Studios and beginning a complete overhaul of the DCEU, Marvel’s main cinematic competitor. This meta-factor makes a bittersweet film all the more so.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Peter Quill (Star-Lord) – Chris Pratt
- Gamora – Zoe Saldana
- Rocket – Bradley Cooper
- Nebula – Karen Gillan
- Drax – Dave Bautista
- Mantis – Pom Klementieff
- Groot – Vin Diesel
- Adam Warlock – Will Poulter
- Kraglin – Sean Gunn
- High Evolutionary – Chukwudi Iwuji
- Lylla – Linda Cardllini
- Written by – James Gunn
- Directed by – James Gunn
The ending of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 explained
With the defeat of the High Evolutionary through good old fashioned Guardians of the Galaxy teamwork, the heroes flee Evolutionary’s sinking ship. At first, their primary purpose is to rescue the loads of captive children. But Rocket, embracing his raccoon roots, demands the Guardians also save the captive animals. Quill is the last to leave, gets stuck in the space between ships, starts to freeze to death, but Adam Warlock saves him. The Guardians have a serious conversation about their futures. Peter Quill comes to terms with Gamora not being the same woman he loved. He also decides to return to Earth to see if his grandfather is still alive. Gamora returns to the Ravagers and has with them what her previous incarnation had with the Guardians. Mantis heads off to find herself. Rocket, Nebula, and Drax remain on Knowhere to lead the newly increased population, with Rocket taking over from Peter as head of the Guardians.
Sometime in the future, we see a quick scene of Rocket’s Guardians—Groot, Cosmo, Adam Warlock, Kraglin, Phyla—off on a mission, doing classic Guardian things. Meanwhile, Peter discovers his grandfather is not only alive but remembers him. Thus starts a new chapter for an earthbound Star-Lord.
The entire Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy has been about misfits, found family, and redemption. In the original movie, this was limited to just the immediate handful of characters that bond and form the team—Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Groot. In Vol. 2, we see how the values of this unlikely family have the power to save others. Nebula, Mantis, Yondu, Kraglin, all find themselves changed for the better thanks to their interactions with the Guardians. In Vol. 3, this scales even further. Instead of saving just a few people, their values have them building an entire population of cast offs from all over the universe.
The exact lifeforms High Evolutionary viewed as worthless, the Guardians cherish. Even a previous foe like Adam Warlock. By being kind to Adam, by offering him a path to redemption, he saves Peter when no one else could. Then goes on to be a key part of the Guardians themselves.
So there’s definitely a very lovely message that spans the entirety of James Gunn’s run with the Guardians.
End to begin
James Gunn has spent the last 9 years working on Guardians related movies. He’s played a significant consulting role on the MCU in general. Vol. 3 is his goodbye to the universe, as he’s now the co-chairmen and co-CEO of DC Studios. So when we see the main characters coming to terms with aspects of their past in order to begin new chapters of their lives—that feels a bit meta. But that’s probably what makes Vol. 3 so emotional. It echoes the complicated feelings its creator had while making it.
You could almost argue that High Evolutionary represents Disney.
Even though Gunn’s version of the Guardians is over, the characters aren’t finished. They’re set-up for new adventures.
The themes and meaning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Guardians Vol. 3 has two major relationship narratives. The first is between Rocket and High Evolutionary. The second between Peter Quill and Gamora.
Peter and Gamora were, of course, in love. But the Gamora Peter knew passed away in Infinity War. Who we see in Vol. 3 is the same Gamora but from years earlier, prior to ever meeting Peter or being part of the Guardians. So even though this woman Peter loved is right there, it’s not her. And he has to come to terms with letting her go rather than trying to recreate something they never shared. The ability to accept this leads directly to Peter finally having the capacity to confront an even deeper aspect of his past: the death of his mother and the fact he has a grandfather back on Earth who he hasn’t tried to see. By returning to Earth, Peter’s character arc comes full circle.
High Evolutionary was a scientist attempting to create a perfect race. Rocket was one of many animals he experimented on. But Rocket’s intelligence gained him some degree of favor and attention from this man who was essentially Rocket’s maker. The initial tone of these conversations was friendly, simple, almost compassionate. Until Rocket solves an advanced scientific issue that had befuddled High Evolutionary. Then High Evolutionary felt inferior to his own creation. Which caused a lot of jealousy. This resulted in High Evolutionary exterminating Rocket’s collection of modified animal friends. Which caused Rocket to maim High Evolutionary’s face. Each feels wronged. Each wants vengeance.
In previous Guardian films, Rocket had refused to explain his backstory. He had a burden. A terrible secret. Vol. 3 shows us exactly what that was. By having Rocket not only confront High Evolutionary but also discover and accept his raccoon heritage, the burden disappears. This cynical, kind of selfish character transforms into a compassionate leader and takes on Peter’s mantle of leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Life isn’t perfect
High Evolutionary is a maniac who believes he can create a perfect race of people. The planet he’s created, Counter-Earth, is supposed to be this ideal place that improves upon life on normal Earth. Except it’s not perfect. The Guardians see gangs and drugs and violence. But it’s also not awful. There are suburbs with families who are kind and compassionate. Yet as soon as High Evolutionary hears about the negatives, he destroys the planet and everyone on it. He’ll do it all over again. Like he has before.
On the other end of that spectrum, you have the Guardians of the Galaxy and their community on Knowhere. The guardians themselves are a band of misfits. Imperfect people who have learned to be better. Who, every day, redeem one another. And this has carried over to Knowhere. It’s a population of unlikely strays who have formed a bond. Is it perfect? Hell no. But does it work? Absolutely.
Total perfection is a myth. And High Evolutionary embodies what happens when you sacrifice all morality and ethics in pursuit of such a thing. While the Guardians remind us that flaws and scars can be beautiful. That even though we might not be perfect, we can be great, mistakes and all. Adam Warlock’s character arc captures this and is why he goes from being part of team High Evolutionary to ending up as part of the Guardians. He starts a bit more monstrous but finds redemption and a new direction through the help and kindness of imperfect others.
Why is the movie called Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?
Back in 2015, news came out that the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy would simply be called Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. James Gunn himself confirmed it, saying, “Yeah, I came up with a LOT of titles for Vol. 2. But because Guardians of the Galaxy is already so wordy, it seemed strange to add another bunch of words after it. I liked Vol. 2 the best, so that’s what I stuck on the cover of the screenplay—and, fortunately, the guys liked it.”
We see a counter-example to Gunn’s choice in the titles for the Spider-Man movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
As straightforward as Gunn’s answer is, there is a degree of nuance. The term “volume” refers to an installment of a singular work. For example, if the next Game of Thrones novel was so large the publisher had to break it into two separate books, it would be volume 1 and volume 2. A volume tends to differ from a part in how much they coincide with plot points. Season 4 of Stranger Things had volume 1 and volume 2 and the divide had less to do with a break in the narrative than it did the length of the episodes.
Volume 1 episode lengths: 78 minutes, 77, 64, 79, 76, 75, 98.
Volume 2 episode lengths: 85, 150
It would be a bit strange to have a “part 2” that was only the last two episodes. As opposed to, say, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movies that evenly divide a single story into Dune: Part 1 and Dune: Part 2. Better Call Saul, Sopranos, and other prestige television shows have also used the two-part structure. For Saul it was seven episodes in Part 1, six in Part 2. Sopranos had twelve in Part 1 and nine in Part 2. For Stranger Things, they weren’t telling a different part of the story. Simply releasing a separate, concluding volume of the story.
We see this reflected in the mixtape motif that Gunn has employed for his Guardians run. The second movie coincided with a literal cassette tape that Peter Quill titled “Awesome Mix. Vol. 2”. It’s all part of the same mix that extends over multiple tapes.
You could make the argument then that Gunn always saw the Guardians films as a singular, cohesive story that was being told across several installments. The volumes happen to coincide with the parts of the story, but choosing one term over the other has different implications. Even though both denote sections that add up to a whole, you could argue that “volume” tends to have a bit less of an inherent division to it than “part”, which allows for a larger sense of “this was one grand adventure”.
Another way to look at it is Vol. 3 concludes part one of the Guardians of the Galaxy story. The time of Star-Lord’s leadership. And now we’ll begin part 2, with Rocket Raccoon at the helm.
Important motifs in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Gunn’s Guardians movies have always placed an emphasis on the misfit and the idea of redemption and value beyond our mistakes. Vol. 3 takes this to another level. Its villain only wants perfection. Anything less is disposable. That’s wholly antithetical to the ethos of the Guardians and their found family. While the previous films emphasized the value of people, Vol. 3 extends this idea to animals. One of our favorite characters, Rocket, was a simple raccoon. Given the opportunity, he becomes so much more.
So while there’s an initial emphasis by the Guardians to save the children High Evolutionary had captive, Rocket emphasizes also saving the animals. Because they too deserve grace and fair treatment. The superpowered dog Cosmo plays an important role in Kraglin’s arc. And Adam Warlock adopting the orphaned pet Blurp is the beginning of a change to his character, from villainous to humanized.
Questions & answers about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Why doesn’t Gamora remember Peter?
The Gamora from the previous two movies didn’t survive Infinity War. Thanos sacrificed her in order to claim the Soul Stone. The Gamora in Vol. 3 is a byproduct of the time travel in Endgame. When the heroes go back to 2014 as part of the plan to prevent The Snap, they recruit that version of Gamora and end up bringing her into the present. The 2014 Gamora predates the events of the original Guardians. Meaning she has no memory of Peter or the rest of the team. Same person + different experiences = different person. Over the course of Vol. 3, Gamora goes on a similar arc as she did in the original film, slowly won over by the group, slowly falling for Peter. But the magic isn’t so simple to recreate and she feels more attachment to the Ravagers so returns to them. It’s bittersweet that we know, in another life, she made a different decision.
Why does Adam Warlock turn good? Why was he even bad in the first place?
The writing for Adam Warlock is weird. At the end of Vol. 2, we see a cocoon that has Adam Warlock incubating within. In Vol. 3, Warlock’s mother, Ayesha, gives a brief bit of exposition saying that High Evolutionary demanded Warlock leave the cocoon prematurely before fully developing. The implication is that this was done to send Warlock after Rocket. Meaning that Warlock is essentially a newborn who is still developing much of his mental, emotional, and intellectual capabilities.
So when we first see him, he’s crude, careless, and cruel. A being of immense power with little morality. As he hurts others, he comes to realize it’s not something he enjoys. And as others help him, save him, are kind to him, he comes to appreciate those behaviors. Ultimately, it’s Groot taking the time to save Warlock when Warlock felt he didn’t deserve it that tips the scales. Returning the favor, testing out the role of hero rather than horror, Warlock saves Peter from freezing to death in space.
His whole character arc plays into the film’s main concept of imperfection being okay and the power of growth and redemption.
Why was High Evolutionary so obsessed with Rocket Raccoon?
High Evolutionary thought of himself as more than the smartest person in the room. He thought of himself as a god. Except when it came to creating intelligent life, the experiments kept failing. Something in the transformation process kept causing uncontrollable rage in the subjects. It’s a problem that plagued Evolutionary and his team for a while. Yet after explaining this to Rocket, Rocket knew the solution. It was an issue with the parts used in the machine. One in particular was directly responsible for the complication. He made the fix and, sure enough, the transformation worked perfectly.
Instead of taking pride in the fact he had a part in Rocket’s extreme intelligence, High Evolutionary was angry. That’s because Evolutionary didn’t view Rocket as an equal but as an animal, a sub-par lifeform. That’s almost unbearable to an egomaniac like High Evolutionary. Ostensibly, he wants to dissect Rocket to understand how Rocket became so much smarter than some of the other experimented-on animals. But, really, it’s a fragile ego needing to destroy someone else it views as a threat. It’s the thing most tyrants and villains throughout history share: an inability to not feel threatened by the differences in others.
Now it’s your turn
Have more unanswered questions about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Are there themes or motifs we missed? Is there more to explain about the ending? Please post your questions and thoughts in the comments section! We’ll do our best to address every one of them. If we like what you have to say, you could become part of our movie guide!