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The Ending of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Explained
Let's take a closer look at how James Gunn's trilogy wraps up.
It took a little while, but this weekend, the Guardians of the Galaxy finally re-assemble for their long-awaited third adventure on the big-screen, and their last under the leadership of writer/director James Gunn. In discussing his plans for the third installment in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, Gunn made it clear that this story would be the final ride for the original incarnation of the team, setting the stage for some kind of status quo shake-up by the end. Well, we get that, and then some.
So, as the MCU's latest film becomes available for the whole world to see, it's time take a closer look at how Gunn and company wrap up the entire saga, what it means for the future of the Guardians, and where we leave off with individual characters.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers below for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3**
Well, Gunn certainly makes good on his promise to make this film the last story featuring the Guardians team that he'd shepherded and evolved for nearly a decade, but that conclusion perhaps doesn't go the way we expected. Going into the film, it felt like there was a good chance that at least one member of the Guardians team wouldn't survive the fight, and since much of the story features Rocket (Bradley Cooper) clinging to life while his friends fight to save him, it was easy to imagine someone heading out into the Great Beyond by the end. What's perhaps most surprising about the film's ending, therefore, is that none of the Guardians had to give their lives to make something work this time around. This time everyone lived, and then some.
The fight in Vol. 3 isn't for the fate of the universe as it was in the two previous installments. Instead, Gunn focuses in very tightly on the Guardians themselves, what they want, what they see in each other, and why they function so well not just as a team of heroes, but as a group of friends. Along the way, that brings them into conflict with the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) and Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), but even when that battle heats up, the villains are almost secondary. By the end, with Rocket's life finally saved and the team back together kicking ass to a Beastie Boys song, the struggle becomes less about defeating and more about saving.
Because of course, the High Evolutionary is not a destroyer, at least not at first. He's much more interested in what he can (amorally, viciously) build from the pieces of a universe he considers inferior, and that means his crashing ship is packed with test subjects. After coming so close to losing one of their own, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket, Groot (Vin Diesel), and a tagalong Gamora (Zoe Saldana) from the past aren't interested in leaving those subjects to fend for themselves. Instead, they launch a rescue mission, evacuating all of the kids and animals trapped on the ship to Knowhere, where they can start a new life.
It's within that new dynamic — the weight of Rocket's revival, plus the sheer number of lives they've just saved — that the Guardians decide their fate is to disband, perhaps not permanently, but long enough that each of them can seek something else that might offer a sense of fulfillment. It's here that Gunn and company split the group off into their own new focuses. Drax and Nebula, rediscovering the love of family in themselves, decide to stay on Knowhere and raise the refugee children. Gamora, having found her own sense of family and fulfillment with the Ravagers over the last few years, goes back to their ranks. Mantis, realizing that her entire life has been tethered to others, decides to set off on her own and find what she's really interested in. Rocket, with Groot by his side, assumes leadership of a new team of heroes, because as Peter tells him, the galaxy will still need Guardians (more on them when we talk about the credits scenes).
And then there's Star-Lord himself, who realizes that after all these years and all this time hopping across the galaxy, he's only ever returned to Earth one time, to fight Thanos. He's never actually reconnected with his homeworld, never even tried to go and see if his grandfather is still alive and waiting for him to come home. So, after years of masking his fear of going home with adventures, Peter simply decides to do it, returns to Missouri, and reunites with his grandfather after decades away. We don't know how long he'll stay there, how much he might get involved in Earth superheroics, or anything else, but it's pretty clear that Star-Lord's journey in the MCU isn't over just yet.
What all this amounts to — combined with the defeat of the High Evolutionary, the growth of Adam Warlock, and the rise of Knowhere as a kind of galactic refuge — is a clear, satisfying, and powerful ending that gets where it's going without decimating the title team, or leaving any of the characters lost to time. In the years since Avengers: Endgame, we haven't seen a conclusion of this magnitude in the MCU, as Marvel has instead focused on growing its universe and expanding its roster of characters. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the universe certainly gets bigger, but something also definitely comes to a close, an era of stories that were simultaneously joyful and heartbreaking, a story of misfits who were searching for their place. In the end, each Guardian found that place, even if it's not where they thought they'd end up.
Looking to catch up on more Marvel movies? Keep an eye on the SYFY schedule for previous Guardians movies, Captain America films, Doctor Strange, and more.