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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3: A Fitting Farewell To Marvel’s Most Relatable Superheroes

This is #CineFile, where our critic Rahul Desai goes beyond the obvious takes, to dissect movies and shows that are in the news. Today: Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3: A Fitting Farewell To Marvel’s Most Relatable Superheroes
Poster for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Last Updated: 10.07 AM, May 06, 2023


THE ONLY THING I fear as much as losing a loved one, is growing up. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I’m already in my late thirties. It’s a figure of speech. Also, it’s not a line I expected to write in a piece about the 32nd film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But let me expand on that.

I’ve had a hate-hate relationship with Hollywood’s superhero fix ever since Iron Man (2008) mushroomed into an endless franchise of comic-book adaptations. It’s not just hard to keep up with; navigating the maze of cross-connected, cash-grabbing continuity is a full-time job. But even in all the blurry chaos of the last 15 years, I’ve warmed up to a few of them. Especially the ones that — as absurd as it sounds for demigods who have everything and nothing to do with reality — speak to me.

Like Black Panther, for being rooted in a sense of loss and humanity. Like Thor, for being a parody of Thor. Like Spider Man, for being young and hopeful. Like Wolverine, for being broken and tired. Like Tom Cruise, for being Tom Cruise. Most of all, like Guardians of the Galaxy — for amplifying that bittersweet stage in friendship that comes right before moving on; for manifesting the brink of growing up into a trilogy of wise-cracking, winsome and wonky feels. It’s hard to dislike this gang. Unlike the Avengers, who’re mostly adults looking back in time, the Guardians are time itself. Watching them has been like — to paraphrase Andy Bernard from The Office — knowing you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.

The ragtag camaraderie between Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, Mantis, Rocket, Groot, Kraglin and Nebula evokes a very specific moment in life. Over James Gunn’s three movies, I’ve often felt that they’re the sort of college group cramming in all they can before graduation arrives. They’re going through love, loss, frustration, humour, rage and respite like humans who’ve found each other while looking for themselves. There’s a sense of transience about their adventures — the Guardians are not ‘forever’ friends, they’re temporary soulmates who are aware that they might have never banded together if they didn’t need acceptance and belonging. They’ve also bonded with each other like people — or, well, different physical versions of people — who know that people and priorities change. That, one day, it won’t be the same and everyone will move on.

Still from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Still from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

That’s the thing about this franchise: Death or destruction was never going to close out Guardians of the Galaxy; it was always going to be the heartbreaking surety of growing up and leaving behind. Vol. 3, which arrives nearly a decade after the first film, nicely does what any final film should: It lets go. And it graduates, with emotion and gratitude and a whole lot of self-awareness. It’s no wonder that music — a soundtrack peppered with those funky dance classics from the ‘80s and ‘90s — plays such a key role in the franchise. The characters love their mixtapes. It’s not just because friendship is a familiar sound, but also because the Guardians are like a famous pop band whose idiosyncratic members were destined to embark on their own solo careers. It’s not that they stop loving and enjoying each other; it’s just that the future is calling. It’s a goodbye in proper Superhero language — a baton-passing and focus-shifting — where Peter Quill cedes space to the next plurality of the Guardians but also the next singularities of their existence.

So you see Rocket, the grumpy genetically engineered raccoon, become the unwitting protagonist of this film. “It’s your story all along, you just didn’t know it,” he is told, back when trauma and suffering shaped his days in the cages of the Counter-Earth lab. The premise is collective but also personal. Rocket’s bleak past is weaved into this film as near-death flashbacks: He is mortally wounded by Adam Warlock, an artificial being sent to capture Rocket and bring him back to The High Evolutionary — a sociopathic scientist who created Rocket and other hybrid creatures in his effort to enhance all living beings into a “utopian civilisation”. Rocket’s coma snaps the other Guardians out of their Nowhere reverie. They fly out to distant Orgocorp, the High Evolutionary’s bio-company, hoping to steal the override code for the kill-switch embedded in a dying Rocket.

There are a lot of break-ins, escapes and spaceship explosions, as well as a bunch of funny moments diffusing the serious moments in true (and false) Marvel style. The evil villain must be stopped, of course, because he has a motive that’s worse than destroying humanity: perfecting it. His Counter-Earth is as flawed and skewed as Earth itself, and so he plans to kill everyone and start all over again with the magic formula that made Rocket such a unique creature. As one might imagine, this makes for an almost Biblical mission — bolstered by the Noah’s Ark-like sight of (lab) animals joining children in their escape from Orgocop into the Guardians’ ship.


Along the way, Rocket’s untold history is revealed — the Orgoscope experiments on him, his evolution into a tech-genius raccoon, the High Evolutionary’s exploitation of him, and most importantly, Rocket’s young attachment to three fellow inmates (a wise otter, a goofy walrus and a cute rabbit). The four of them become the best of friends in the worst of circumstances, dreaming of a future in which Rocket invents a spaceship that takes them flying across galaxies. They give each other names and identities, forging a relationship that helps them survive the scientific assaults on their bodies. We’ve seen war movies like these, where prisoners grow close to each other despite — and because of — their doomed fates. Needless to mention, a tragedy is inevitable, one that launches Rocket and his adulthood into the confines of a homeless superhero team.

In many ways, this design of Rocket’s story is the most poignant element of the Marvel movies. It reiterates what Guardians of the Galaxy is really about: The passing of time and tide. Rocket made promises and plans with those childhood friends, promises and plans that were left unfulfilled. He did end up flying in those spaceships he built, but with an entirely new set of friends. All along, he was grieving the previous version of himself, one whose darkness was chiseled by three pockets of light. That’s where he learnt how to dream and despair. His escape back then was shaped by their loss — and his escape from death in this film is shaped by the friends he gained. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the escapes are perhaps over, and all that’s left are the memories of the good old days in the heads of those who were always prepared to transition into the good new days. The closure is fitting, if not entirely cinematic, for it implies that even superheroes — like their earthly counterparts — earn the privilege and pain of growing apart. The only difference is they don’t end; they simply begin again and again.

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