Guardians Of The Galaxy 3’s Ending Is Still A Wonderful Surprise 1 Year Later

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 packs an unexpected ending for its band of misfits, and it remains one of the MCU’s best a year after release.

MCU's new Guardians of the Galaxy team running into battle in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 post-credits scene

One year after Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 hit theaters in May 2023, the movie’s unexpectedly wholesome ending is still a surprising delight. The film’s moody trailers indicated a weighty tone, and it looked like writer-director James Gunn might take drastic steps to give a lasting sense of finality to characters that audiences had grown to love over the course of three main films and a host of other entries in the MCU. Both Gunn and some Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 cast members, including Dave Bautista, made statements saying they were finished with characters, leading many to expect some potentially heartbreaking deaths.

What viewers discovered instead is that the ending of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 offered a real sense of resolution to several key characters and the film’s wider story without resorting to cheap deaths. With two memorable Guardians Of The Galaxy films under his belt, the expectation was that the third movie would be a grand finale, possibly at a huge cost. But rather than opt for the ‘quick fix’ by killing off a major character or using a clumsy plot hole, it felt as if Gunn had thought long and hard about the best ways to do justice to the characters.

Guardians Of The Galaxy 3 Gave Characters Closure, Not Death

Established Characters Are Moved Forward Rather Than Stopped In Their Tracks

Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

In a delightful surprise, Gunn decided that transformation was better than termination, and the characters’ arcs reflect this approach. Drax’s ending ensured he abandoned revenge and embraced his paternal side, becoming a father figure and protector who honors the memory of his wife and daughter. Nebula, even after suffering trauma at the hands of Thanos and harboring justifiable resentment, put aside her anger and violence to become the real leader of Knowhere, where her toughness and resolve could be put to better use.

Gamora stayed alive and shunned the cliché of rediscovered love with Star-Lord, instead choosing a new home with the Ravagers. This arc does justice to Gamora’s personality and makes her an individual instead of a feeble replacement for old Gamora. Rocket, the most likely candidate for death, confronted his mortality but found a way to make peace with his origins and his identity, and he became the new Guardians Of The Galaxy captain. What could have been tragedy instead became a celebration in a way that felt grounded and appropriate to the characters.

How The MCU Can Learn From GotG 3’s Beautiful Ending

A Thoughtful Approach Could Do Justice To Other Characters At Their Narrative Climax

Drax prepares to dance in Guardians 3

Across the rest of the MCU, only Steve Rogers got a narratively satisfying, death-free ending. Characters like Bruce Banner, Thor, and Clint Barton seem near or at the end of their journey, so their fate hangs in the balance. Gunn sets the example with his work across three Guardians films, showing it’s possible to honor iconic characters and bring their story to an end without leaving an audience distraught at their loss. This template could be used for future MCU installments.

Iron Man’s death still feels appropriate given his previous conflicts and sometimes selfish nature, so death in storytelling shouldn’t be ruled out for other MCU mainstays if it helps tell a meaningful story. But such an approach should be used sparingly. In the meantime, however, the way in which thoughtful storytelling was used to such impressive effect remains a wonderful surprise. Gunn provided a delightful twist, ensuring that in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3, the heroes are both utterly changed but still alive and kicking.

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