Why Guardians of the Galaxy 3's songs are more important than you think

·6-min read

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 spoilers follow.

Writer/director James Gunn is known for his smart soundtrack picks used throughout the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies. His choices for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 are just as perfect – and even more eclectic and well-chosen than those in the previous movies.

Gunn has made no secret of the fact that music is really important in the Guardians universe – after all, it is what connects Peter Quill, snatched as a child from Earth, to his late, music-loving mother via the "awesome mix tape" she created for him that he listens to on his Walkman (until dad Ego destroys it near the end of the second movie, of course).

In an interview with Vulture back in 2014, Gunn explained that the use of music was also there for another reason – to "ease the audience" into the movie.

"We're thrust onto a bunch of strange planets with strange landscapes, and the familiarity of the pop songs made it all a little more palatable," he said. "They simultaneously grounded us and provided a really fun juxtaposition."

rocket , guardians of the galaxy vol 3
Marvel Studios

In the first two movies, those songs were mainly from the 1970s, including Redbone’s 'Come and Get Your Love', the track Peter is listening to when he is dancing around the cave at the start of the first movie, and that pops up again in a lovely moment in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 that brings the series full circle.

However, at the end of the second movie, Peter was gifted with a Microsoft Zune loaded with songs from the '80s, '90s and '00s that Yondu had bought for him, and it is tunes from that era that shape the soundtrack of the third movie and make it very different from the previous films.

From the first scene, Gunn lets us know that Vol 3 is a darker, deeper Guardians movie, ditching an upbeat opening track for the acoustic version of Radiohead's 'Creep' as Rocket walks through Knowhere singing along: "What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here." They're lyrics that apply not just to him, but to all his fellow Guardians as they try to find their place in the universe.

Gunn has admitted that opening up the soundtrack to more than three decades of music rather than just one caused its own set of problems.

gamora in guardians of the galaxy vol 3
Marvel Studios - Getty Images

"It was very, very difficult," Gunn said (via Rolling Stone). "I felt very uncomfortable picking out songs and making sure that this was the right soundtrack. Do I move on to just all '80s songs? Do I use all '90s songs? Or do I do what a Zune would actually have – songs from different eras, which is what I ended up doing."

Gunn has once again chosen memorable pop/rock songs that make an impact during fast-paced sequences in the movie, including Spacehog's 'In The Meantime', The The's 1983 track 'This Is the Day' and, for an edge-of-the-seat, effects-filled fight later in the film, 'No Sleep till Brooklyn' from the Beastie Boys. There's also rocker Alice Cooper's theatrical version of the vaudeville song 'I'm Always Chasing Rainbows' ("My schemes are just like all my dreams, ending in the sky…"), which could be Rocket's theme song.

There's even a song in the movie that is very personal to Gunn himself, as he told Lauren Laverne on BBC 6 Music.

"The Mowglis' 'San Francisco' is the song that played the minute that my wife and I got married – so my brother, who married us, Sean, who plays Kraglin in the film, said 'You’re now man and wife'," he recalled.

"And right away this song started playing and we kissed and we walked off and all of our friends who were there walked off after us, including Chris Pratt, so I have that very personal connection [to that song]."

karen gillan as nebula dancing in guardians of the galaxy 3
Marvel Studios

But it is the song Gunn uses in one of the quieter moments that is the best needle drop in the movie, and the one with perhaps the most meaning.

The Peter we meet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 has been through so much since we first met him, dancing through that cave in Vol 1. He's gained and lost a father (Kurt Russell's Ego) and, far more tragically, also lost both a father figure (Yondu) and the love of his life, Gamora.

While this movie is about the gang racing to save the life of Rocket, there is one brief scene that has Peter as its heart, as he stares out into the abyss of space, facing loss once more, and it is backed by The Flaming Lips' 2002 track 'Do You Realize?'

It's a superb choice for two reasons – the first being that it’s not an obvious needle drop.

Unlike some music that is used time and again in movies, songs from The Flaming Lips are rarely used on soundtracks, so if you're not an alt-rock fan it’s likely you haven't heard it (or spotted it on screen) before. (If you're not familiar with the band, check out this clip on YouTube of their unique 'space bubble' stage show).

guardians of the galaxy vol 3 trailer
Marvel Studios

The second reason is that the lyrics pack a perfect punch, too. The Flaming Lips' lead singer Wayne Coyne has spoken about the song's inspiration, saying: "Whenever I analyze the scientific realities of what it means to be living here on Earth – in this galaxy – spinning around the sun – flying through space – a terror shock seizes me! I'm reminded once again of how precarious our whole existence is."

That's a pretty on-the-nose theme for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, and with lyrics like "Do you realize/We’re floating in space? Do you realize/That happiness makes you cry? Do you realize/That everyone you know someday will die?" it is also a poignant choice for Peter, of all people, to be listening to.

At 2022's Comic-Con (via NME), Chris Pratt mentioned the song and what it means to have it in the final chapter of the Guardians trilogy.

"It's such a moving song, the imagery's incredible, and obviously you're immediately swept up not only in the idea that this is the end of this trilogy for all of us, but also you're reminded of the journey that the characters are on… It's a really emotional story."

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is out now in UK cinemas.

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