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Guardians of the Galaxy 3 deserves a content warning for violence against animals

James Gunn’s grand finale goes hard, and a spoiler-light list of the shocking imagery is in order

A close-up on the sad, serious-looking face of Groot, the CG alien tree-person voiced by Vin Diesel, as he appears in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Image: Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is wrapping up the story of James Gunn’s Guardians team as he moves on to DC projects. But in order to move them forward, it’s also diving into their pasts. While bits and pieces of the story are clear in the trailer, a few things only hinted at in previews might be better for some audience members to know ahead of time, like the fact that the movie has extensive, intense, and graphic moments featuring animal cruelty.

As unpleasant as that may sound, Guardians 3 never plays its animal abuse as anything but tragedy, and it represents an important emotional core for the story. But it’s still the kind of thing that will touch many people deeply and that may disturb younger viewers in particular, and moviegoers might not expect it from a silly ol’ Marvel film full of banter, insult comedy, and explosions.

If a warning was all you needed, and you want to head into the rest of the movie completely unspoiled (or wait for a streaming version), you can stop right here.

But for folks who’d like a more specific overview of ideas and images of animal abuse they’ll encounter in Guardians 3, below is a description that has the lightest spoilers possible, while laying out what to expect when you head to the theaters.

[Ed. note: This story contains light spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.]

An extreme close-up on the face of a frightened baby (CG) raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Image: Marvel Studios

As the trailer teases, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 spends a lot of time focused on Rocket Raccoon’s backstory, and as Rocket himself has suggested, it isn’t very pleasant. In the course of finding out how surgical experiments made Rocket into a talking raccoon, we meet other animals who can talk, feel, and scream like humans as well. This storyline is the avenue for the movie’s most gruesome animal-related scenes, including torture, mutilation, and dismemberment of creatures that look like animals and have human-like intelligence. (The characters are all CGI creations, so no real animals were harmed.)

This being a PG-13-rated Guardians of the Galaxy movie, most of this doesn’t happen on screen. Actual surgery scenes are represented with audio, or by seeing the results after the fact. While this choice keeps the movie from turning into a gory horror-show, viewers do still see and hear some cruel experiments. A significant group of characters in the film are experimental animals that have been mutilated, with body parts missing or replaced with metal equivalents. A few scenes feature fresh, graphic animal wounds. Even with some of the violence happening off-screen, there’s still quite a bit of animal gore to contend with.

For those looking for more specific descriptions, here’s a broad rundown of some of the potentially disturbing events involving animals and anthropomorphic animal-people in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. While this list doesn’t describe any specific scene in detail, it could be seen as more spoilery than the broad overview above. For those seeking specific trigger warnings, this film includes:

  • A lengthy sequence of terrorized baby animals cowering away from a handler
  • Animals with limbs or other body parts amputated and replaced with metal versions
  • Major animal characters with vivid, persistent sores, irritation, or wounds caused by these grafts
  • Characters with metal objects permanently embedded through their skin and bone
  • A baby animal immediately post-surgery, with its skull exposed and other raw, open wounds, trembling and vocally protesting in a child’s voice about the pain
  • Characters listening to a graphic audio recording of an anthropomorphic animal screaming in agony during surgery, with the surgeons complaining about it moving around too much
  • An animal being painfully and almost instantly mutated via a technological process, then immediately burned to death
  • Animals being hauled around by body parts and thrown against hard surfaces
  • The bloody onscreen death of multiple animal characters and the extended destruction of an entire animal civilization
  • The graphic mutilation of a human by an animal
  • Hundreds of animals caged in small, filthy, constricted pens
  • Gaslighting, emotional abuse, and parental-figure abuse of anthropomorphic animals
  • Extensive character grief, emotional trauma, and PTSD caused by all of the above

While all this sounds like a lot, and it certainly is, none of it is to say that the movie doesn’t earn these moments or use them well. They play an important part of the story and in the lives and journeys of the Guardians of the Galaxy team members. But they hit hard and are near-objectively terrifying, especially so for younger viewers. In an era where games are going a greater length to allow players to tailor their experiences around phobias and other personal needs, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels worthy of a heads-up.

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