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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 Knew What We Expected And Made Us Pay For It

Contains spoilers for "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3"

We've known that someone's going to die in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" since James Gunn dropped the bombshell in 2020. Lots and lots of someones indeed die in the movie, but the biggest surprise is that every single long-serving Guardian lives to see the end of the trilogy. In fact, "Vol. 3" hands out heartwarming endings like it stumbled upon a closing sale at a closure store. Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are still happily aboard the Guardian train, but everyone else quits the team to follow their own paths. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) goes back to Earth to hang out with his elderly relative. Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) warms up to the Guardians and befriends them, but chooses a happy life with the Ravagers. Drax (Dave Bautista) regains fatherhood as the guardian of the kids the team rescued, while Nebula (Karen Gillan) watches over Knowhere, and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) decides to roam the galaxy with her new Abilisk friends. 

However, in order to reach these nice endings, several characters have to go through some of the worst things any Marvel Cinematic Universe hero has had to face. From the beginning to the very end, "Vol. 3" is clearly acutely aware that the viewers fully expect a Guardian to die, just like the original Groot and Yondu (Michael Rooker) in the first two "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies. In fact, over the course of the film, Gunn hones subverting expectations to an art form, as several main Guardians nearly die in increasingly harrowing ways that would no doubt have been enough to kill them in almost any other MCU movie. 

The gentle art of almost killing the Guardians of the Galaxy

In the opening minutes of the movie before Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attacks, we see the ominous scene from the trailers where the Guardians march in formation while carrying the fallen Star-Lord. As it turns out, it's essentially a gag, and Peter has merely blacked out after spending too much time in a Knowhere bar. This first fake-out serves as a portent of things to come, as Guardian after Guardian receives grievous injuries, which the film invariably plays completely seriously before revealing that they survived. Normally, this might get repetitive after a while, but since folks go in expecting a major death and many of the injuries are so very brutal, each close call just adds to the tension.  

As usual, Nebula gets the brunt of bodily harm. Adam Warlock ragdolls her in a terrifying fashion during his attack on Knowhere, and a minion of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) delivers some pretty nasty neck damage during a later fight scene. However, her well-known and gruesome ability to heal from all sorts of body horror makes these relatively tame near-death moments, tension-wise. The same can be said about Groot, who does get decapitated in a nasty fashion but heals quickly enough. 

However, this is only the beginning, and the injuries keep getting worse. Rocket spends much of the movie at the gates of death due to his wounds, and even gets a "walk into the light" scene as he goes into cardiac arrest. Drax takes two incredibly lethal-looking shots from Master Karja, who might be a minor character but remains a potential hero-killer due to the simple fact that he's played by the cleverly-cast Nathan Fillion. Somehow, even this isn't enough, though.

The movie saves its worst scare for the last

The biggest blows Star-Lord takes for much of the movie are emotional ones as he's still struggling to cope with the death of his timeline's Gamora. This changes very, very suddenly in the final moments of the Guardians' attack on the High Evolutionary's ship, when Peter is unexpectedly stuck on the dying vessel and doesn't quite manage to make his daring escape. As he floats helplessly in the space between the exploding ship and Knowhere, his friends can only watch as Star-Lord suffers an incredibly graphic version of Yondu's freezing space death. Instead of his father figure's relatively mellow death, though, Star-Lord's imminent demise is gleefully taken far beyond the audience's comfort zone, as the scene progresses from a grim parallel to Yondu's death to a horrifying depiction of Peter's face freezing and contorting its way into a ghastly death mask. It's not until well after this apparent point of no return that the film allows Warlock to rescue Star-Lord at the absolute last second, thus pulling the rug from under the viewer one more time. 

There's no way that Gunn's tactic of keeping the audience on its toes with this series of ever-escalating near-deaths isn't deliberate, and considering how long the news of a character's death has been out there, there's a pretty decent chance that this clever, grueling sequence was crafted specifically to play with viewers' expectations. It's definitely a clever move, though it remains to be seen how well it works over repeat viewings.