There are a couple of essential ingredients when you’re looking to wrap up a trilogy. First, there’s a beginning, middle, and end (obviously). It would be best if you had a way to wrap up the individual and macro overachieving themes in which the story began in the first place. If you look at Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne becomes Gotham’s protector with the caped crusader mantle and passes it on to live a happier life (begrudgingly) in Dark Knight Rises. On the outside, the city of Gotham is going through a cleansing process where there’s a fight for its soul with opposing forces of good and evil.
Lastly, a paradox exists within the specters of life and death. Does killing off a main character justify being the finale's needle drop? Examples would be Ripley in Alien 3 (which would later be undone), and Neo in The Matrix Revolutions also got undone). Chalk it up to shock value or contractional obligations, but some might be inclined to this so. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is one of those instances where the opposite worked to a tee. It feels like writer/director James Gunn recognized the emotional weight of this film and called for something different.
Much of the MCU’s phase four aura was the remaining heroes dealing with dense grief – so much so that it almost overtakes the energy of the new heroes on the block like Yelena Belova, Kamala Khan, Monica Rambeau, and Kate Bishop. I’ll admit I had a big grin when Florence and the Machine’s “The Dog Days Are Over” played to take us home with Vol. 3. This group of rag-tag, lovable misfits all had a happy ending going off into their corners of the world – and that’s the way it should be.
The Mantis/Drax comedic tandem needed to go their separate ways because Mantis needs her own adventures, and Drax was on a path to be a protector sans conqueror. Given everything Rocket has gone through, he was always meant to be a leader. Thus, it makes sense for him to lead the next iteration of the Guardians. Yeah, it’s not the same Gamora, but the resolution helps Peter Quill to resolve things he runs from. Not to mention, we’ve already lost two instances of Groot throughout this whole saga. The sweeter thing may lie in having these characters ride off into the sunset forging on their separate journies.
Death is not a device to be used lightly and within a story with impactful, brutal flashbacks. It made sense to have them within Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame – a culmination of a huge story arc. Thanos sacrificing his daughter Gamora was there to show how much of a sadistic madman he was. Natasha/Black Widow sacrificing herself other than Clint/Hawkeye showed how deep their friendship ran throughout the 20+ films. Tony Stark’s heroic use of the Infinity Gauntlet in Endgame showed that even with having the life he wanted (marrying Pepper and having his daughter), he still was able to make the tough choice to sacrifice it all for the greater good.
Maybe there is a version of Guardians Vol. 3 that may have had something catastrophic occur, and we certainly get close in some respects. It’s important to remember sometimes the good guys win, and you don’t necessarily have to lose someone to know that. Not only did Gunn leave Marvel with his imprint, but it set a new trajectory where we can smile a bit. Isn’t it good that stories exist where most of your characters dance around to a popular 2008 song?