Written by Scott Miller
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a fun superhero comedy-action Marvel movie—but it has an unexpectedly compelling message. As the film reveals Rocket Raccoon’s backstory, moviegoers learn that our beloved hero (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was the subject of cruel laboratory experiments run by the High Evolutionary, an evil villain void of compassion. Fellow Guardian Nebula says that what happened to Rocket was “worse than anything Thanos ever did.” Sadly, this type of plot doesn’t come out of Knowhere. In the real world, millions of animals are enduring it right now.
Here are a few points from the hit movie that blend fantasy with reality:
The High Evolutionary refers to Rocket as 89P13. In real laboratories, animals are not treated as sensitive, complex individuals with feelings and fears, but as pieces of laboratory equipment with ID numbers tattooed on their chests or inside their ears.
Rocket is shown strapped into a nightmarish restraining device while being experimented on. He is helpless to defend himself, as his arms and legs are tightly bound. This inhumane contraption is eerily similar to those that real laboratory workers use to restrain monkeys.
In the film, Rocket and his animal friends are kept in small cages and given no enrichment or mental stimulation. They daydream together about a better future. In real life, animals in isolation experience psychological distress and exhibit abnormal behavior, such as pacing and self-mutilation. In both scenarios, the future is grim. Just as the High Evolutionary kills his living “tools” once they are no longer of use to him, in real laboratories, animals are usually killed and dissected after enduring a lifetime of suffering.
Writer/director James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” screenplay doesn’t back away from its true-to-life subject matter. Although some of the film’s flashback scenes are tough to watch, this movie “sees the individual”—which is why PETA honored Gunn with a “Not a Number” Award. We urge animal experimenters to see it.
The High Evolutionary is an insane narcissist whose experiments serve no purpose other than to satisfy his own perverse curiosity. Yet this is not so different from real life, in which laboratory staff purposefully breed animals to suffer from debilitating conditions, including cancerous tumors, weakened immune systems and a variety of painful disabilities.
Mice have been dropped into inescapable beakers filled with water in near-drowning tests at Eli Lilly, purportedly to study human depression. At the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, experimenters remove the ovaries of tiny marmoset monkeys and overheat the animals with hand warmers to mimic hot flashes in an attempt to study menopause—even though marmosets don’t experience menopause! For decades, experimenters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison drilled holes in cats’ skulls for “sound localization” experiments—even though the lead experimenter admitted that “our goal is not to produce a clinical treatment or a cure.”
But when it comes to this horrible exploitation of animals, any goal is irrelevant because the experiments don’t work. A 2014 review published in The British Medical Journal found that “even the most promising findings from animal research often fail in human trials and are rarely adopted into clinical practice.”
You don’t have to be Star-Lord or Drax the Destroyer to take action for living beings suffering in university and government labs. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” ends on a positive, inspirational note. Spoiler warning: The film imagines a world where animals can live in peace. PETA is actively working toward that future through its Research Modernization Deal by promoting animal-free research methods that could actually result in treatments and cures for human diseases. Find out how you can get involved at PETA.org.