Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Dir. James Gunn. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 2023

Though James Gunn’s 2023 Sci-Fi/Action movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3[1] reunited audiences with the beloved Guardians, the opening scene instantly insinuated this film’s darker tone due to its immediate focus on the horrific nature of animal experimentation and how it can be physically and mentally catastrophic for the creature. Gunn presents this by displaying how deeply Rocket’s experiences haunt him, despite his hero status and comedic characteristics thus far into the franchise. The film’s first shot is a heart-warming close-up of a multitude of kits, running around and playing. The light music playing simultaneously incites a false sense of security in the viewer, as seeing baby animals play is joyful and ignites a protective feeling over the defenceless creatures. However, once one raccoon looks up in fear at something unknown to the audience and a harsh drum cuts the harmonic music, the audience becomes tense, fearing the culprit that could harm these infant animals. The focus changes between an approaching silhouette and the kit, frozen with terror whilst the other raccoons desperately attempt to flee. By ‘placing adorable animals in peril[2]’ Gunn is forcing audiences to feel anxiety due to the harmlessly cute nature of the animal and the looming danger the hand represents, especially when considering how violent and rageful the older Rocket can be. This contrast between the innocent kit presented now and the dangerous criminal the viewer is first introduced to is vital as it displays how tragic animal experimentation can be and destroy the creature, even if the experiment is not fatal. By cementing that the final film in the trilogy examines Rocket’s abnormally torturous upbringing from an infant age, Gunn creates a darker tone that is abnormal to the franchise, in order to explore, both the extent in which Rocket’s backstory has damaged him, and the ethical issues and consequences associated with animal experimentation.

The orchestral music distorts and becomes louder once the unknown, yet dangerous figure reaches its hand into the cage. The hand not only leaves the kit paralysed with terror, but it unnerves the audience as it engulfs the screen, hovering above the small creature. The swelling music reaches its peak during the shot from behind the kit. The infant is trembling with fear whilst the hand, slowly comes into focus, overwhelming the screen. This shot mirrors young Rocket’s perspective and subsequently devastates audiences as they see, not only how cruel this moment is due to the callous abduction of a tiny creature, but also how horrifying this moment is for the kit, as Rocket is still haunted by the hand overwhelming his vision, cementing the mentally damaging effects of animal testing. By making a hand into a monstrous, overwhelming presence in comparison to the kit, Gunn is displaying the brutality of animal experimentation, as infant animals are being captured and tortured for reasons unbeknownst to them.  

The soundtrack crescendos before going silent and cutting to infant Rocket’s face, slowly panning into his eyes, and staying there whilst Rocket ages, before panning back to reveal the older, genetically modified Raccoon. Though his fur changes, his eyes stay the same, the fear remaining despite the age difference, cementing that his past torments Rocket, and is something from which he cannot escape. This is solidified by the acoustic version of Radiohead’s Creep[3] which plays during this transition. This slow song not only reflects how Rocket bitterly resents himself and his abnormal body due to the lyrics “I’m a creep” and “I’m a weirdo,” but is a significant tone change to Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky[4] and Redbone’s Come and Get your Love[5], the fun opening songs to the prior two films. This horrific moment followed by a sombre song sets the darker tone of the movie expertly, as by revealing an infant animal and suggesting it goes through trauma so hideous it haunts him even at an older age, the audience is left nervous about the true brutality of animal experimentation they will have to witness and how this cruelty will influence a character beloved to them.

[1] Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, dir. By James Gunn (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2023).

[2] Wendy Ide, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 review – a big-hearted emotional rollercoaster (2023).                                 <> [Accessed 10th November 2023].

[3] Radiohead, ‘Creep – Acoustic’, Creep EP [download track] (Spotify, 9th November 2023).

[4] Electric Light Orchestra, ‘Mr. Blue Sky’, Out of the Blue [download track] (Spotify, 10th November 2023).

[5] Redbone, ‘Come and Get Your Love – Single Version’, [download track] (Spotify, 10th November 2023).