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Should ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ Come With an Animal Cruelty Trigger Warning?

Baby Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 premiered on May 5, 2023, and is one hell of an emotional sendoff for the unlikely team of misfits who worked their way into the hearts of Marvel fans beginning almost a decade ago. As the conclusion to James Gunn’s trilogy, Vol. 3 provided a satisfactory ending for the team as a whole. However, while the film sees all the Guardians finding their place in the galaxy, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) arises as the undeniable heart and center of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. A perfectly fitting quote to describe his role comes from another anthropomorphized animal character, Lylla the otter (Linda Cardellini), who tells him, “Oh, my beloved raccoon, didn’t you know that this story has been yours all along?”

The film delves into Rocket’s past and explains his origins as an experiment from the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). In the previous two films, it was clear Rocket had some deep emotional trauma, but he always refused to talk about it. However, when the High Evolutionary returns, he finds himself having to face his past. We soon find that Rocket is just one of many animals that the High Evolutionary conducted gruesome experiments on in his maniacal attempts to make himself “god” and to create the perfect beings and perfect world.

The plot details mentioned above were touched on in the trailer and will be known to those familiar with the comic books. Hence, most viewers expected some difficulty getting through the flashbacks of Rocket’s past. However, not every viewer may have been prepared for just how brutal and heartwrenching the scenes turned out to be. This is because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 takes a very firm stance against animal cruelty, portraying those who commit animal abuse as wholly despicable and irredeemable figures and providing viewers with an eye-opening depiction of what animal cruelty truly looks like. While it’s a bold and powerful stance, some of the scenes may be upsetting to viewers.

Does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 need a trigger warning?

Linda Cardellini as Lylla in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has been receiving largely positive reviews, the intensity of its depiction of animal cruelty has received some mixed responses. Some media outlets have labeled it one of the most disturbing and “least kid-friendly” Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films so far, with some even questioning if the film should have received an R-rating for its content. Similarly, many social media users are praising the film but also conceding that its depiction of animal cruelty is not kid-friendly and is very difficult to watch. Many also used the platform to warn others about the difficult scenes since the film doesn’t come with a trigger warning, though some users also expressed that it should have.

It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 should have included a trigger warning, as its depiction of animal cruelty was brutal enough that it was upsetting and triggering for some viewers. Again, though, that is not to say that its depiction was a bad thing or that it was too much. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is very careful to ensure that the stance on animal cruelty is crystal clear and that there is no justification for such treatment in any circumstance. The character who hurts the animals is depicted as one of the most abhorrent and unhinged villains of the entire MCU, while those who save them are the heroes. Additionally, it does not go overboard in utilizing overly gory or gruesome depictions for the sake of the shock factor. It shows as much as it needs to get its point across.

The truth is, even though the film’s depiction of animal cruelty is CGI (ensuring no animals were harmed in the making of the film), it provides a very realistic and brutally honest depiction of what animal cruelty looks like within animal testing. Meanwhile, it’s very rare that a blockbuster film, especially in the superhero genre, has tackled this topic in such a bold manner. It shows the pain and distress that animals experience, as well as how unnecessary and inhumane animal testing often is. The truth of animal cruelty is very ugly and hard to watch, which is why Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will likewise be difficult for some to stomach.

What to know before seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Bradley Cooper as Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Despite the lack of a trigger warning, many viewers will still find themselves forewarned about the content due to the media (and social media) raising awareness for the difficult scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. For those who may find the topic triggering and are concerned about whether to go or not, here’s a mostly spoiler-free breakdown of what is shown. As mentioned above, the film is not overly graphic or gory and the animal cruelty isn’t very explicit. There are still upsetting scenes of animals in cages and being strapped to medical tables, but the actual surgical procedures are never shown onscreen.

However, the aftermath of the High Evolutionary’s experiments are shown quite plainly. Rocket’s first word after being genetically modified to speak is “hurt.” Meanwhile, he meets three other victims of the High Evolutionary’s cruelty—Lylla, Teefs (Asim Chaudhry), and Floor (Mikaela Hoover). These characters are a lovable, happy, and friendly little bunch, who help each other cope with their situation, but they are hard to look at. They’ve all been experimented on and “modified,” having mechanical limbs or wheels attached to their bodies. Even though they don’t seem to be in pain, viewers will spend much of the time watching them wondering how anyone could do such a thing to a living creature. Their captivity is also very heartwrenching and distressing.

While not graphic, the deaths of some of the High Evolutionary’s many experimentation subjects are also shown. Animal cruelty also morphs into body horror at some points due to the High Evolutionary’s many failed attempts at creating humanoid animals. With that being said, though, the film isn’t all just misery and distress. Viewers will receive a satisfying conclusion regarding these victims of the High Evolutionary that alleviates some of the distress over their plight. It might also invigorate many to advocate for better treatment of animals and raise hope of this film bringing the topic to the forefront of public discourse.

The depiction of animal cruelty in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may understandably be triggering to some, but only because the film purposefully tackles a difficult subject in a very impactful manner to poignantly advocate for animal rights.

(featured image: Disney)

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Rachel Ulatowski is an SEO writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, YA literature, celebrity news, and coming-of-age films. She has over two years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.