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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3: Reading Queer Subtext On Chosen Family In The Emotional Finale

There’s a strong queer subtext that’s present in banding together of people who are unlikely to get along in any fantasy/sci-fi/superhero movie, and that attracts people to the genre.

Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Chosen Family

With the lackluster response to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantamania, Marvel is finally back on track. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is already passing $500 million at the global box office soon. From its beginning, Guardians of the Galaxy has held a special spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it begins with a group of misfits banding together to save the universe. While most of Marvel media has been limited to the righteous hero who will save his family and the world, Guardians presents a vastly unique and refreshing scenario, though it’s not without its demerits.

Since the second part of the trilogy blew everyone’s expectations away, a lot was at stake for the final outing from the Guardians. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 did a lot of major things: it puts the chosen family as the core emotional center of the story involving the father-son dynamics between Yondu and Peter, all while the latter struggles with the true identity of his father Ego. The same movie also features a lengthy fight scene between Gamora and Nebula (daughters of Thanos) where they fight til death only to realise that they both share the common pain of the abuse they suffered at the hands of their father and ultimately were unable to help each other. At the end, they realise they are the sisters they needed all along.

Family Dynamics of Guardians: A Queer Subtext

There’s a strong queer subtext that’s present in banding together of people who are unlikely to get along in any fantasy/sci-fi/superhero movie, and that attracts people to the genre. Famously, the X-Men have served as an analogy of the civil rights movement for the minorities including queer people. In fact, queer people were not very long called out as “mutants” by a Republican from Florida. The point is, when people who have been rejected or who are different find their friend(s) or their family who accept them for who they are, as happens with the Guardians, it is a queer experience.

It also helps that Guardians are a split image of the usual genre dominating heroes who are almost perfect, and whose human side is shown at times though it comes from a different place. The Guardians, on the other hand, have tragic backstories that led them to where they are right now and they carry on with it. It also provides a mature narrative which holds against heteronormative imposition of tired tropes.

For instance, Starlord doesn’t end up with Gamora in Volume 2 or in Volume 3. It’s simply because even though they are the lead romantic pair that share chemistry; as people, they are in different stages of their life and have nothing good to offer if they enter into a relationship. Sometimes, the subtext is latent like within these instances where one has to read into it. Other times, it’s on the face for whoever sees it. To cite an example, the Christmas special being set up in a gay bar briefly or the introduction of openly queer character Phyla Vell in the post credits of Vol. 3.

Amidst all this, it’s Rocket who ends up being the most tragic character in the history of Marvel Cinematic Universe. Rocket’s journey from being used by the High Evolutionary and losing friends at a young age to finding family and friends with the Guardians is gut wrenching. For the worst, it is a relatable narrative for many queer people who are thrown out of homes or made to feel like they’re worth nothing. On a brighter note, the love for the new found family is what lies at the emotional core of the movie, which gets to scary heights at times but ends up being a rewarding experience, perhaps the most rewarding in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far.

There are Demerits: James Gunn and Criticisms

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 does eventually find itself within the shackles of the norms of the very genre it tries to escape. One, being an ensemble cast there should be parity. However, Chris Pratt reportedly made more than all of his female co-stars combined in the movie, which is shocking but not surprising given the general trends. Although the producers market the movie with Pratt’s starpower, Starlord didn’t bring anything to the table that Gamora or Nebula or Mantis already didn’t.

Additionally, Pratt has suffered the rage of the internet before for his association with Zoe Church, which supported anti-LGBTQIA+ views. No queer person would want such an actor to be in a movie that’s about ‘chosen family’. The director James Gunn was even fired by Disney over his views on rape, pedophilia, and HIV/AIDS. It is bit of rough ground as it’s Gunn’s vision that has brought in queer subtexts and progressive feminist narratives around sisterhood through Gamora and Nebula’s shared abuse, and the refusal of  heteronormative narratives when the guy doesn’t get the girl even after saving the universe three times.

Unsurprisingly, it also doubled down on minorities as the comical stereotypes. Mantis has been made the butt of the joke even though she’s a formidable ally. Further, her abuse and appearance is constantly made fun of by Drax. It’s also very frustrating that the ‘finding family’ narrative for Guardians is executed so nicely while Wanda suffers and is branded as an evil witch who’s hell bent on destroying everything. So while Gunn is the prime reason behind the distinct charm and emotional feels of the Guardians franchise, there is still some work to be done, both in his work and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.

With the current pace of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a ray of hope that delivers an excellent, soul-crushing, emotional finale centered on the chosen family while maintaining consistency of its comic and heroic tones. Although there certainly won’t be any ripple effect of similar themes throughout the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s definitely a (slow) step in pushing the genre slightly towards progressive and mostly enjoyable results.

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Rajeev completed their under graduation in Political Science Hons. from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi in 2020. They graduated with Masters in Women’s Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai in 2022 and were a participant at the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute, University of Iowa for the 2021-22 session. They have been the recipient of Mavelinadu Collective’s grant for non-fiction for the first issue of Debrahminising Gender. Their work can be found in EPW, Women’s Link Journal, Shuddhashar, Gaysi Family, Feminism in India and Hindu College Gazette among others. Their research interests include queer experiences, feminist ethics of care, and masculinities.

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