Everyone seems so mystified that Gamora is alive.
After all, Thanos did chuck her off that cliff (as chronicled in Avengers: Infinity War). The fact that she showed back up (in Avengers: Endgame) would be enough to confuse even the most seasoned of scenario-hopping time-travelers.
But for Gamora, the real mystery is how a previous version of herself wound up with such … losers.
This Gamora never fell in with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and she certainly never fell in love with Peter Quill, aka Star Lord. She wonders what sort of madness would’ve ever compelled her to do either. I mean, look at these guys! Quill’s so goofy, so sincere—not the tall, green and lethal fellow perhaps Gamora would’ve envisioned herself with. (If she was romantically inclined, that is. Which she’s not. Too much of the galaxy to plunder.)
And the rest of the Guardians? Well, they’re an equally strange bunch. Drax calls himself The Destroyer, but he seems to do precious little destroying. Mantis seems about as dangerous as a Pomeranian puppy. The tree guy is certainly big, but his vocabulary could stand some improvement. What Nebula—Gamora’s adopted sister—sees in these lunks is beyond her. Clearly, Nebula’s gone soft. In the head.
And we’ve not even mentioned the raccoon.
Why, that little critter is the whole reason that the Guardians got in touch with Gamora and her band of Ravagers in the first place.
Apparently, the thing is dying or something. Some big gold guy shot the raccoon full in the chest with his energy hands, and now the beast needs medical attention. But here’s the thing: The raccoon has a mysterious killswitch lodged in its innards. Any tampering with the animal (as in, giving it medical attention) will kill it, too.
The Guardians need the code to turn off that kill switch and save the raccoon. To do that, they need to fly to a weird organic-planet-thing. And to access that planet, they needed Gamora’s help.
Gamora thinks that’s a whole lotta work (and given her staggering fee, a lotta money) for just a pet. In fact, it’s a lot of work for a person. Gamora wouldn’t put in a tenth of that effort to save anyone in her life. All this talk about friendship and love … those are just other words for weakness.
But they paid well, so she helped.
Unfortunately, the plan didn’t go quite as expected. And now Gamora’s stuck with these losers for at least a while. She’ll have to hear Drax laugh and Quill cry and Groot say the only three words he knows over and over and over. She’ll have to hear about love and friendship and family. Ugh.
Hope none of it rubs off on her.
Much to Gamora’s initial dismay, the Guardians of the Galaxy are all about love and friendship and family. And our discussion of all three begins with the character that this new/old version of Gamora cares the least about: Rocket Raccoon.
We learn quite a bit about Rocket’s backstory here—how he got to be the tech-gifted mammalian he is. But we also learn that in his old life, he had another quasi-family. Even in the horrific conditions they lived in and the terrors they were all subjected to, we discover that their bonds of affection were enough to make the place bearable. Love endures anything, as the Apostle Paul tells us—but love also helps us to endure.
Rocket’s new family is no less loving, and we see the tremendous lengths to which they’ll go to save their friend, risking their own lives for any chance to bring him back. It’s mystifying to Gamora, especially at first. But love is a powerful thing—more powerful than Gamora would’ve ever expected. Indeed, throughout the film we witness “weaknesses” that prove to be strengths. Drax’s goofy levity turns out to be much more impactful than his ability to destroy. Mantis’ empathy turns dangerous adversaries into assets. A character offers unexpected mercy to someone who doesn’t deserve it, and so on.
Quill is also forced to think about family—specifically the family he left behind when he was abducted from Earth ever so many years ago. While Quill at first shows little interest in reuniting with his grandfather (remembering him, essentially, as a mean old man), Mantis reminds Quill that when Quill last saw his grandpa, they were all in the midst of deep grief.
We see lots of heroism and sacrifice, as you’d expect. Innocent lives are saved. A telekinetic dog proves her worth. Characters gain new confidence and understanding. And the galaxy is, mostly, guarded.
We’ve noted in past reviews that movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe are getting more spiritual—and often not in a good way. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 puts a lot on the spiritual menu—and much of it is surprisingly positive.
The main antagonist here, the High Evolutionary, believes that creation is woefully imperfect, and he aims to “correct” that perceived fault. His track record is dismal, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. He’s created several galactic races in his quest to design a more “perfect” universe. We should note that he also reserves the right to destroy his creations—be they people or planets—and he’s beholden to no one else but himself. “There is no God!” He tells someone. “That’s why I stepped in!”
But the High Evolutionary, the movie suggests, is wrong.
[Spoiler Warning] We see a sort of afterlife here—one in which old friends are reunited and where the sky never ends. Rocket is himself is the product/victim of experimentation. But he’s reminded that “there are hands that guide the hands.” Clearly, the implication is that there’s an intelligence far beyond that of those who experimented on him.
As you might expect, we encounter a lot of talk about evolution here: Some creatures go through millions of years of that process (as the film imagines it here) in a matter of seconds. Guardians of the Galaxy does not attempt to debunk evolution as secular biologists would teach it. But it does suggest that however the universe was created, a great and loving consciousness was behind it—and that it is hubris to think that we could do any better.
A new character is named Warlock (though his powers are not particularly occult). We briefly see the spirit of someone who died.
Quill tries to remind Gamora of their past relationship (or rather his relationship with a past/future Gamora): He’s clearly still smitten with her. When she tells Quill that the woman he used to love sounds more like her sister, Nebula, Quill briefly looks at her in a whole new way. (He compliments Nebula on her eyes—telling her that after Thanos ripped out her original pair, he chose a good set of replacements.)
Mantis, who has the ability to plant thoughts in people’s minds, makes a male planetary gatekeeper fall madly in love with Drax. The gatekeeper playfully but chastely flirts with Drax, much to his annoyance and Mantis’ amusement, and we learn it’s far from the first time that Mantis has pulled the same trick.
Female characters wear formfitting outfits on occasion.
As one would expect from an MCU movie, violence is absolutely an inescapable part of the action here. It’s likely not necessary to tell you that people are shot and blasted and hit and kicked and thrown around and occasionally blown up. But Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels like it takes the mayhem and, yes, carnage up a notch. So a few special warnings.
First, the blood. While there’s very little of it technically, many of the alien creatures instead bleed a sort of yellowish-clear ooze—and it goes everywhere. If that ooze had been crimson, this likely would’ve earned an R-rating.
Some characters, good and bad, suffer some really terrible injuries. One suffers a grotesquely broken neck, but continues to fight as it snaps back into place. Arms and legs are broken and bend in unnatural positions. A face is ripped off (largely out of view of the camera), and we later see the bloody, semi-skeletal structure that was left.
We see the handiwork of the High Evolutionary: grotesque and torturous half-animal, half-metal constructs that look as if they were pulled right from a horror movie. (Think Sid’s creations in Toy Story and multiply those by a factor of three or four.) Other creations are painfully forced to “evolve,” and many are immediately destroyed. When Nebula learns about what Rocket went through, she says that it’s worse than anything Thanos did to her.
An entire planet is destroyed, presumably killing its millions or billions of inhabitants.
One f-word (the first we’ve heard in the MCU) and plenty of other euphemisms for it (“friggin’” and “freakin’” are the most common). We also hear an s-word and other profanities, including “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–n,” “h—,” “d–k” and “p-ss.” God’s name is misused thrice.
When the movie begins, Quill is still deeply despondent over his lost love (even though she’s technically alive), and we’re introduced to him when he’s very drunk and quite bellicose. When Drax learns that his friend has passed out, he says, “Again?”, suggesting this has become a very common occurrence.
Drax tells several people how skilled he is at metaphor and allegory, including one such verbal description that involves a description of his excrement. A dog-like creature urinates and, later, licks its privates.
The orgo-planet visited by the Guardians can be goopy and slimy.
We should note that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 can also be extremely dark. Creatures are clearly terrified of their captors, and torturous experiments seem to be commonplace. While those experiments mainly take place off camera, younger and sensitive kids may well be pretty bothered by what they see here.
Marvel movies have always been a mixed bag, and this one may be the most mixed of all.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is fast paced and frenetic. It’s a little more violent than your average, baseline superhero film, and some of the resulting grotesqueries might draw a wince … or several. Deaths are commonplace. And the wholesale annihilation (albeit mostly offscreen) is in some quarters is truly catastrophic. And literal bombs aren’t the only things that are exploding: One f-bomb does, too.
And it’d be difficult to underestimate how dark the movie can feel in places. Guardians of the Galaxy films have always managed to blend rollicking comedy with a lot of heart. But this movie’s heart sometimes feels as though it’s breaking.
But what a heart it has.
Gamora plays a critical role in Vol. 3, because it’s through her eyes that we’re able to see so freshly the squabbling, deeply loving dynamics of the Guardians. Through her, we can better appreciate their sacrifice, their character, their foibles, their love. When Gamora essentially demands that Nebula should help her leave this pack of misfit superheroes, Gamora pulls the ultimate card. “We’re family!” she says.
“So are they,” Nebula tells her. And she means it.
Vol. 3 is as much a story of belonging as it is superheroing, and what it means to love and care for difficult people in difficult times. As such, we find that we can relate to these people—even if the “people” are cynical raccoons and walking trees. Our own struggles do not involve space travel or fighting aliens on literally living planets, but the Guardians feel, paradoxically, down to earth. They feel like us. They feel like home.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has plenty of problems, and I’d urge parents interested in taking their kids to this to use plenty of caution. This is will be a difficult movie for many. But it’s also the best MCU film since Endgame and perhaps the best Guardians movie yet made.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.