In 2009, The Hangover struck the cinemas like an liquor-powered lightning bolt. Grossing more than $467 million worldwide, the raunchy Las Vegas comedy was all but guaranteed a sequel despite never really setting one up.

In spite of the middling reviews and apathetic audience reputation of The Hangover Part II, the somewhat-uncalled-for follow-up managed to gross $581 million – thus guaranteeing a third installment in what may or may not be referred to as a “trilogy.” Already well on its way to completion, The Hangover Part III got an interesting promotional boost this weekend when its director, Todd Phillips, released a series of photographs taken on the set.

Over the weekend, the director announced that he had created a public Instagram account in order to post progress pictures from the film’s production. These images are viewable in our gallery (or, if you want to have a look at Phillips’ dog, you can wander over to the Instagram site itself). Most are simply casual shots of the returning cast – including Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Ed Helms (The Lorax), Justin Bartha (The New Normal), and an unusually grizzled Ken Jeong (Community).

However, a few of the stills hint ominously at the film’s possible plot. We already know that the third entry in the Hangover saga will not revolve around a wedding and a bachelor party gone hideously awry. Rather, early reports suggest that The Hangover Part III will be a road-trip film – quite a departure from the previous two wedding-centric movies. If the shots provided by Phillips are a solid indication, this go-around will instead involve a funeral, pig-masked bandits, and the same sort of desert wastes that gave the first The Hangover an undertone of scrabbling desperation.

Check out the images below (click to enlarge):

After the relentless mediocrity of The Hangover Part II, it’s difficult to argue that the world really needs another entry in the series. The first installment was a slick, darkly-rimmed comedy that ended up having much more style than it did substance. However funny it was – and mark you it was extremely funny – it never called out for a sequel. Alas, mountains of money have a way of creating films where none are ever needed.

That said, these set photos from The Hangover Part III are actually fairly promising. There’s a grime and exhaustion to them that contrasts sharply with the purely synthetic thrills of the second movie. At the very least, we’ve received confirmation that the narrative won’t simply ape the previous two films’ bachelor-party-gone-wrong structure. Finally, we get a brief shot of John Goodman, whose unnamed character is set to be a full-on villain … and I think that we can all agree that John Goodman makes anything – no matter how dire – quite a bit more enjoyable.

The Hangover Part III will shuffle groggily into theaters on May 24, 2013.

Source: Todd Phillips’ Instagram account (via Coming Soon)