October 2, 2023

Re-VIEW: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ – Furthering the Found Family Theme


In, 2014, with the original Guardians of the Galaxy, writer and director James Gunn introduced movie audiences to a gang of intergalactic misfits operating on the wrong side of the law, but with hearts big enough to earn them the status of superheroes. The sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, expanded the mythos by exploring the otherworldly origins of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). The final film of the trilogy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, focuses on yet another backstory – that of the caustically lovable Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).

Gunn establishes Rocket’s central role at the beginning of the film, when a devastating attack by Sovereign warrior Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) leaves the bellicose cyber-raccoon critically injured. When his companions discover a kill switch preventing them from treating Rocket’s wounds, they embark on a desperate quest to disable it before their friend dies.

The quest for the kill switch code is a ticking time-bomb that drives the narrative forward at a relentless pace. What follows is an interstellar adventure filled with Gunn’s characteristic blend of larger-than-life action, solid character interplay and quirky humor, as this group of much-loved characters strive to save their friend. Meanwhile, Rocket himself spends much of the film in a coma – a bold decision that pays off dramatically in a big way. As Rocket sleeps, he dreams, enabling Gunn to present his dark past via a series of highly emotional flashbacks.

These flashbacks tell the heart-rending story of Rocket’s early life as a victim of vivisection, one of hundreds of unfortunate animals experimented on by the ruthless High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a scientist dedicated to creating a perfect world inhabited by perfect beings. Like Prometheus, the High Evolutionary’s ambition is to mold life; like Victor Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s modern incarnation of the classical Greek god, he uses scientific methods that are both macabre and morally dubious.

Deep in the bowels of the High Evolutionary’s laboratory complex, Rocket finds fellowship with three of his fellow ‘Batch 89’ test subjects – an otter called Lylla (Linda Cardellini), a rabbit called Floor (Mikaela Hoover), and a walrus called Teefs (Asim Chaudhry). The tragic story of this desperate band of survivors is truly heartbreaking. It ravages our hearts with images of animal cruelty, making us question our own ethics. Gunn expertly manages the levels of emotion in these scenes, drawing out tears from the audience without ever resorting to bathos. Furthermore, it sows the seeds of the ‘found family’ theme that runs through the entire Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy – for Rocket, his acceptance by his Batch 89 friends is a blueprint for the relationship he ultimately enjoys with Quill and the rest of the Guardians.

Rocket’s acceptance by his fellow lab rats reinforces the film’s central theme of tolerance and diversity – a theme that is neatly counterpointed by the High Evolutionary’s obsessive quest for perfection. Like all families, the Guardians are plagued by faults, but the twist is that here is where their trues strength lies. The High Evolutionary’s fundamental error is that he fails to recognize not only the inevitability of imperfection, but also its inherent value. Appropriately, it falls to Rocket to point out the High Evolutionary’s mistake: “He didn’t want to make things perfect. He just hated things the way they were.”

Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 invites us all to recognize and celebrate “the way things are” – which is not always the way they seem to be. When Mantis (Pom Klementieff) communes with a trio of ravening squid-like giants called Abilisks, she discovers that these apparent monsters just want to be loved. As for the Guardians themselves, they are arguably the most diverse ensemble ever to grace the silver screen, comprising as they do a human whose father was a god, a cyber-enhanced raccoon, a walking tree, a pair of warring sisters, a musclebound vengeance-seeker and an alien with empathic powers.

The film’s message of inclusivity extends even further during the climactic scenes, in which Rocket insists that everyone on board the High Evolutionary’s disintegrating spaceship must be rescued … including all the test subjects from the villain’s experimentation chambers. The result is a spectacle verging on the Biblical, as thousands of liberated animals stampede to safety in a scene that would make Noah proud. As a metaphor for saving the planet this is hard to beat.

With his Guardians of the Galaxy films, Gunn has crafted a universe in which everyone is welcome, despite their imperfections – or, perhaps, because of them. It is no coincidence that the Guardians have set up shop in Knowhere, whose population boasts every imaginable variation of species, genome, skin color, intellect – you name it. Why is Knowhere the perfect place for such a community? Because it exists inside the drifting severed head of an ancient celestial being, proving that Gunn’s message has been clear from the very beginning: only by accepting others for who they are, can we truly see into the mind of God.

Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez is the CEO and executive director of VIEW Conference, Italy’s premiere annual digital media conference. She holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and a BA from the University of California Santa Cruz. VIEW Conference is committed to bringing a diversity of voices to the forefront in animation, visual effects, and games. For more information about the VIEW Conference, visit the official website: http://viewconference.it

Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez's picture
Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez is the CEO and executive director of VIEW Conference, Italy’s premiere annual digital media conference: http://viewconference.it.

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