Boy howdy, remember all those years ago when James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because of some tweets that he did, only to then go on and become the head of DC Studios after making the fantastic The Suicide Squad? Cause I sure do! I think it’s safe to say that a decision like that backfired spectacularly for Disney as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 serves as the last chapter in an era for the MCU. Not just from Gunn’s departure for greener pastures and leading DC’s slate of films, but for a lot of the groups and characters that really made the MCU the franchise that it was in the early 2010s.
When Guardians of the Galaxy hit in 2014, most people tend to forget that it was seen as being DOA by a lot of fans. Marvel fans have heard of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, but the Guardians of the Galaxy were a rather obscure group. To try and make a big superhero movie out of a fairly unknown team was a huge gamble, but it paid off. Not only did it do better financially than basically every Phase 1 film, but its sense of humor and approach to comedy would become one of the defining elements of the MCU, for better or worse. With the trilogy of films now coming to an end, does the series top the excellence that was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?
I mean not really, but it’s still a good time.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
Director: James Gunn
Release Date: May 5, 2023
Set some time after the events of the second film and Avengers: Endgame, the Guardians of the Galaxy have settled down and have rebuilt the space observatory Knowhere and turned it into their base. It’s shortly after this when a mysterious invader named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attacks Knowhere and gravely injures Rocket (Bradley Cooper). The Guardians can’t operate on him though due to a kill switch being implanted in him by his creator, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), should anyone attempt to mess with Rocket biologically. They also quickly find out that Adam Warlock was sent to Knowhere by the High Evolutionary in order to reclaim Rocket for some nefarious purpose and only the High Evolutionary has the passcode to bypass the kill switch and let the Guardians save his life. So it’s a race against the clock to get the code from the High Evolutionary and save Rocket while also wrapping up virtually every plot thread from the movies leading up to this point.
It’s somewhat expected that when a film trilogy is set to conclude, there are a lot of loose ends to tie together. These characters have been around for 9 years and have been in half a dozen films, so there’s naturally a lot of stuff for Gunn and crew to wrap up while also letting the film tell its own unique story. I think that when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is telling its own story, that’s when the film is at its best. We frequently switch between Rocket’s origins and his relationship with the High Evolutionary as well as the adventure in the present where the Guardians are doing whatever they can to save Rocket. While the flashback sequences here are nothing special, they do a good job of establishing pathos and making you feel for Rocket and the horrors that he went through as a lab animal. You fully understand now why he never wanted to talk about his past before. It’ll break your heart for sure.
One of the strengths of these films is that, while a lot of the focus is on the group as a whole, when an entire film is dedicated to a single character they really do mine them for everything they’re worth. The themes of family that were present in the second film, like what the word family really means as its examination of fatherhood, really did make me care about Star-Lord in a way that I just didn’t feel in the original film. The same is true here. While Rocket was always present in those movies and was entertaining, Vol. 3 really allows Rocket to step into his own and not just be the wisecracking snarky sidekick. Rocket is the main character and he’s a great one.
As for the rest of the crew, my feelings on their portrayals here are all over the place. I felt like the moments centered on Star-Lord’s romance with Gamorra (Zoe Saldana) fell flat for me as did most of Pratt’s performance. I enjoyed seeing the most human portrayal of Nebula (Karen Gillan) yet and she was easily one of the most entertaining characters in the film, but then you have characters like Drax (Dave Bautista) that haven’t really evolved significantly since the first film. Yes, he’s still funny, but his jokes are almost nine years old and they’re just not as funny as they used to be. At times the film feels like a greatest hits album, recycling a lot of what was great about the previous films but not really doing anything new or exciting with it.
At times that’s okay. I’m not expecting a Marvel movie to reinvent the wheel when it comes to action when they have a very well-established machine by this point. But the Guardians movies have always had strong character beats to complement the action. With this being the end of the Guardians (for now anyway), I can’t help but feel like they could have had a better path to their resolutions. I don’t think the ending that each character receives is bad, but I just wish the journey to get there was a bit less bumpy, not helped by the fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special has information that is basically mandatory viewing if you don’t want to be lost for the first 30 minutes of the film.
When the film is funny, it’s genuinely funny. The jokes are more tailored and precise and less rambling improv comedy like in other Marvel films. I loved the running joke about how Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova) was obsessed with the fact that they were referred to as a “bad dog” and Adam Warlock’s obliviousness. But when the film needed to be serious and play things straight, it did so well. Near the end of the film, there’s a moment involving Rocket where he comes to grips with his past that was especially well done and led to a perfect final confrontation with the High Evolutionary.
Speaking of, god they’re just such a good villain. There’s an old adage that if you want to hate a villain instantly you should make them kick a puppy. The High Evolutionary is a truly hateable villain and one who you just can’t wait to see get his comeuppance. There’s no subtlety or humanization to him whatsoever. He’s a eugenic mad scientist that views himself as God and has an absurd temper. He’s not sympathetic in the slightest and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes you need a villain that has all too human characteristics like Thanos, and sometimes you need a mad scientist who will commit genocide in the name of science. Here’s hoping that I’m able to see Iwuji in more roles in the future because he’s stellar here.
While the second movie ended with a somber and powerful funeral, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ended in a huge dance party with the cast celebrating. Sure, in the context of the film, it’s a celebration of their most recent adventure, but it’s hard not to also read that as a fun farewell to these characters and everything they’ve been through since 2014. While this isn’t a definitive ending for all of the characters, it’s the ending that we need right now that perfectly encapsulates what made the Guardians of the Galaxy films so enjoyable. We have some fun music, some dancing, smiles all around, and a galaxy saved. That’s a good enough ending for me.