The Guardians of the Galaxy marathon made me reconsider the franchise

(L-R): Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Karen Gillan as Nebula, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL.
(L-R): Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Karen Gillan as Nebula, and Pom Klementieff as Mantis in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2023 MARVEL. /

*This article contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3, as well as the Guardians’ prior MCU appearances. Proceed with caution!*

I’ve never been much of a Guardians of the Galaxy fan.

If you didn’t immediately bail on this article upon reading that opening line, allow me to clarify. I am absolutely a massive supporter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and have been following this behemoth of a franchise for nearly half my life at this point, but, I wouldn’t necessarily count myself amongst those who consider writer-director James Gunn’s trilogy of space outlaw team-up movies to be the pinnacle of the franchise.

Don’t get me wrong – I can certainly appreciate the immense care and craft put into them by the aforementioned Gunn – it’s just that this particular band of misfits never quite resonated with me in the way I know they most certainly have for a huge swath of the superhero-moviegoing public. I do love Karen Gillan’s Nebula immeasurably, and she’s easily my favorite of the bunch, but even then, I only really started to cherish her after her role in the two most recent Avengers movies (2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame). For the rest of the team, my stance has typically been aggressively neutral.

You might think it an odd choice, then, for someone like me to willingly sign myself up for a movie marathon that consisted of over six-and-a-half hours straight of Guardians content packed into a single night.

And you’d probably be right.

Regardless, on May 3rd, 2023, I sat down in a crowded IMAX theatre (accompanied by a friend who was a wonderfully good sport throughout the whole ordeal) for back-to-back-to-back screenings of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, and the MCU’s newest and 32nd film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3. This endeavor was for the aptly-dubbed “The IMAX Guardians of the Galaxy Marathon” (and yes, I had to go look up that official title).

I’ll be honest – my main motivator for participating in this marathon for a group of characters I’ve only ever been neutral-to-mildly-interested in was that it presented an opportunity to see this new MCU film as early as possible (the things we do to avoid spoilers, amirite?). To get to watch a film nearly a full day before it officially opened in theatres was appealing to me and made me feel special in a way that probably only the most impatient movie fans will appreciate, but it’s what was at the forefront of my mind when I bought my ticket. (There was also the fact that it’d only cost me a mere $35 to watch all three of these films in IMAX, which is an outright steal when you consider the mega-inflated ticket prices these days.)

The other main reason, though, for wanting to experience all three of Gunn’s MCU films in this compressed format was born out of my own genuine curiosity – after spending an entire night reliving the journeys of these heroes across their first two movies, and then witnessing the carefully-constructed conclusions to said journeys, would my opinion of them change at all?

In a word? Yes.

After an evening in which I mainly existed on a bag of Ruffles All-Dressed chips, a bottle of Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and my friend’s life-saving leftover peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the 11th hour, I’m pleased to report that my little Guardians of the Galaxy experiment actually paid off in dividends. I certainly still prefer many MCU characters, both past and present, over the majority of the Guardians, but I think I actually understand now why these particular movies are so special to so many people.

I suspect it comes down to the idea that a satisfying conclusion can retroactively improve the chapters in the overarching story that came before it. Now, every work of fiction shouldn’t have to be judged by the principle of “a story is only as good as its ending” (to do so would be a huge disservice to those books, movies, and shows that start out exceptionally strong, only to eventually fizzle out over time due to factors beyond the original creators’ control), but with movies like Vol.3, where the ending for each main character feels so intentional and earned, and their accompanying journeys so worthwhile, I can’t help but wish more stories stuck the landing like this. There’s nothing like a fantastic ending to make me all but forget the objections I had with whatever came before.

For instance, I’ve personally always taken issue with the second Guardians movie’s narrative, pacing, and frankly misplaced humor, but now, thanks to the successful execution of its follow-up film, moments that bothered me in Vol.2 will likely play a lot better from now on, and the themes that perhaps never really affected me are going to be far more emotionally impactful in retrospect.

An example of this is the romantic development between Peter Quill and Gamora, which was never one that I, someone who loves romantic subplots in movies almost as much as I love Marvel itself, was ever particularly captivated by. I didn’t much care that Mantis blatantly called out Peter’s desire for Gamora (which, if you ask me, was already very apparent in the first film), or that this eventual couple danced (not literally, if you ask Drax!) around their feelings for the better part of two movies before making it official. Try as they might, I just never bought into them.

Guardians Of The Galaxy
(L-R): Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2022 MARVEL. /

However, I walked away from my first viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 being far more convinced of a past love between these two characters than I ever had in four prior movies and one holiday special. The pathos imbued in their interactions in this final movie made their scenes together incredibly compelling and painful, and I absolutely ate it up.

In Infinity War, Peter and Gamora tearfully confess their love right as he prepares to honor her wishes and kill her before Thanos can capture her, but this moment doesn’t hold a candle to their goodbye in Vol.3, where Peter finally accepts that he’ll never reclaim what he and Gamora once shared, having instead learned to cherish that time in his life rather than force it onto this alternate version of her that currently exists.

In this goodbye, which is also Gamora’s penultimate moment in this film, she tells Peter, “I bet we were fun,” right before leaving the Guardians to rejoin her family, the Ravagers. It’s a scene that’s wonderfully melancholic and subtly beautiful, and one of the movie’s very best for both of these characters. It’s also bitterly ironic that, just in time for this iteration of the team to end, I finally started to appreciate the connection between two of its core members.

This brings me to my other main takeaway (one that was rattling around in my brain whilst driving home sometime after 2 am on May 4th) from this marathon – when regarding the Guardians trilogy as a whole, I need to consider the influence of the greater MCU happenings, or lack thereof, on each individual Guardians film.

It was quite apparent after watching all three of them in a row, but there’s an absolutely enormous amount of development that takes place for the Guardians crew between Vol.2 and Vol.3, but virtually none between the first movie and Vol.2.

This is not only because Vol.2 occurs chronologically just a few months after the events of its predecessor, but also because none of its characters appear or are even acknowledged in any other MCU properties between the two movie’s releases in 2014 and 2017.

Conversely, by the time Vol.3 finally hit theatres earlier this month, it’s been over half a decade of in-universe time since the events of Vol.2. And, beyond that, every Guardian (even Cosmo!) has already enjoyed additional screen time elsewhere, whether that was via Infinity War and/or Endgame, Thor: Love and Thunder, the I Am Groot collection of shorts or last November’s Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.

I can’t even begin to imagine the confusion if a moviegoer came into Vol.3 having just watched the first two movies in Gunn’s trilogy, and nothing else. Some characters, like Nebula, had particularly prominent roles in non-Guardians properties and actually evolved rather substantially throughout those other MCU appearances. Others, like Drax and Mantis, had their unique friendship solidified thanks to a fun, festive adventure a la the holiday special, making their eventual separation at the end of Vol.3 all the more bittersweet. Even Peter and Rocket, ostensibly the biggest leads of this franchise, and also forever jockeying for captaincy of the Guardians, underwent moments of maturity when they each played a supporting role to Thor and factored into his development in the last few years. Peter and Rocket both independently forged a connection of sorts with the God of Thunder, in Love and Thunder and in Infinity War and Endgame, respectively.

Now, it’s no secret that Gunn had long aspired for his Guardians to receive the proper trilogy treatment, and as Marvel fans will recall, we almost didn’t even get this third movie (the summer of 2018, and the later-to-be-reversed firing of Gunn, is a decision I imagine Disney leadership is keen to forget). There’s a distinct difference between making three movies that all-star the same lead or co-leads and crafting a narrative that’s intentionally meant to be experienced across three movies. The latter is deliberate, while the former, at its worst, can be boiled down to happenstance. Thankfully, Gunn more than accomplished his mission.

This foresight from the writer/director is one of the key details that separates the Guardians films from any of the other MCU trilogies or quadrilogies – even those like Ant-Man and Spider-Man, which both also maintained the same director throughout – but like I mentioned above, quite a lot else happened to this group of heroes in the intervening years of Marvel continuity, which then informed most, if not all, of the character trajectories on display here in Vol.3.

Essentially, the second movie in Gunn’s pre-planned trilogy only had to answer to itself, while its third and final film had to both conclude the saga and also incorporate fallout from a large swath of adjacent MCU canon…

And I think it’s far better for it.

If anything, this is probably why Vol.3 is unequivocally my favorite iteration of these people, why I’ve since gone and watched it four more times in theatres after the marathon, and why my entire perspective on this corner of the Marvel Universe has shifted into something far more akin to fondness.

It took over six hours of consecutive Guardians movies for me to realize that Marvel’s interconnectivity, when incorporated properly, is powerful enough to enhance or even redeem an entire franchise for me, and when the filmmaker of the trilogy has a multi-movie plan from the outset, that certainly doesn’t hurt, either. It turns out that I really just needed to have patience, trust the MCU, and give these characters and the stories Gunn set out to tell a chance.

So there you have it. I survived the Guardians of the Galaxy marathon, gained a newfound appreciation of its previous franchise entries, and maybe even became a bonafide fan by the time the final credits rolled on Vol.3. However, there’s one element about these movies that’s remained constant throughout – I’m still completely unable to reconcile Bradley Cooper’s face with Rocket Raccoon’s voice.

And at this point, I suspect I never will.

Next. Why The Marvels is basically the MCU’s next Avengers movie. dark