It’s crazy to think it’s been a year shy of a decade since Guardians of the Galaxy first shook up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When James Gunn’s wonderfully weird space opera came out in 2014, it didn’t just break away from the comic book movie norm; it propelled, dizzied, and most of all boogied its way into the mainstream despite it deriving from a serious Marvel Comics deep cut. With the finish line now here for the Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy, which comes to an end with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we’ve officially witnessed one of the most solid movie trilogies in some time as the last film ends things on a high note.
Release Date: May 5, 2023
Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Sean Gunn, Will Poulter, Chukwudi Iwuji and Maria Bakalova
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements
Runtime: 150 minutes
The new Marvel blockbuster cuts through the bombastic space junk of the genre that could have derailed and then crashed its course (well… for the most part), and caps off its run with a steady hand on a heartfelt story about found family and the pursuit of embracing one’s broken pieces rather than letting them pierce through one’s heart and soul. It's all that, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is also another stylish, laugh-out-loud, offbeat and Awesome Mix of a movie that is something beautifully human and alien at the same time.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 certainly had some odds stacked against it through its development. Between Gunn initially getting fired from the project back in 2018, thus delaying its production for years, to there arguably being a bit too much Marvel lately for audiences to see more intergalactic adventures with fresh eyes. And yet, the threequel manages to play off its heroes to just the right tune that makes one want to dance out of the theater after curling up and crying in catharsis as the credits roll.
Every character is handled with great care, but Rocket’s story is the star.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also stands on the shoulders of Avengers: Endgame, the last major Guardians of the Galaxy outing four years prior, and yet it finds a way to get back to its contained world and march forward to the beat of its own drum again. Sure, it’s got the job of reminding audiences that one central character, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, was thrown off the cliffs of Vormir and what’s left of her has no memory of the superhero team, but even so, it beautifully finds a way to bring audiences into the present moment of the story seamlessly without recapping ad nauseam. Plus, it’s not concerned with shoe-in cameos to set up the next MCU film, as its own world is enough.
This movie picks up as Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is very much in grief regarding the death of his Gamora. But, as it is made clear from the opening scene and on, Star-Lord is no longer the main character of the title. This is Rocket’s time to lead the pack. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 finally tells the origin story of Bradley Cooper’s genius space raccoon. James Gunn has fittingly saved the best story he’s ever told in the series (and perhaps in his career) with Rocket’s backstory. It remains a through line across the entire film and very much centers the message of the movie while bringing home Guardians of the Galaxy as a three-part story.
The crux of action in this movie is incited when Rocket’s life is placed in grave danger and the rest of the team must passionately do what they do best: scour the galaxy and find themselves in precarious situations for the greater good, all while often flying by the seat of their pants to stay alive through it all. Throughout the film, the Marvel movie takes great care in fleshing out every single main character in the team, especially finding full dimensions for Karen Gillan’s Nebula, Dave Bautista’s Drax and Pom Klementieff’s Mantis in ways the franchise had yet to achieve prior. On one hand, the comedic beats are sharper than ever, on another its cleverness can sometimes be too wacky for its own good.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3’s villain is the perfect foe that beautifully foils what makes this team great.
The big bad the Guardians find themselves stacked against is Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary, a scientist who seeks to create the ultimate species by any means necessary. The latest Marvel villain is not only a formidable foe, but one that is directly connected to Rocket's dark past, told in a series of flashbacks that grounds the entire film. The High Evolutionary makes for one of those rarely complimentary, and quite classic hero and villain dynamics, as the blatantly flawed heroes drive a wedge in his path to perfection.
With the High Evolutionary’s plans at the core of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Gunn finds a really weighty pathos to drive the story. The film gets deep into the cost of the idea of human superiority while using the stakes to underline the core messages of the trilogy as a whole. One comes away from it filled with deep empathy and the recognition that within each of us is the desire for love and acceptance, and it’s the people around us who accept us (whether that be by blood or not) that make it all worth fighting another day. The movie especially arrives at that place with its development of characters over the years. In this one, they all really joke and bicker the best they ever have in a way that is both fun to see bounce on screen and brings an authenticity to it all.
Third-act clunk aside, James Gunn caps off his trilogy with tons of great action, earnestness and good fun.
As good as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is, no, it still cannot escape some of the formulaic tendencies of the Marvel machine that can take one out of it and think “how much longer is this final act going to be?” The first two acts absolutely sing and breeze right through, but you might find yourself getting a tad restless given all the moving parts (and spaceships) at play as the story steers towards its conclusion. Not unlike Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, at one point there’s just too much going on all at once, between random creatures, big jokes and fight sequences to not slip out of the movie’s crazy world for a few moments as it all clashes with one another.
That being said, along with a sharp focus on story, both the visual effects and action sequences are rather slick and truly immersive to witness take place on the big screen. And of course, there’s some memorable (and quite unexpected) needle drops. Unfortunately, Quill has moved to a digital music player, which is just not as novel as the first two movies’ use of soundtrack.
James Gunn is also working with some eccentric science fiction moments that really pop and dazzle on screen in ways we just don’t get to see enough in big-budget films. Truly, the big imagination and attention to detail gives Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a boost among Marvel films, and honestly most blockbusters today. Gunn is one of the few filmmakers not afraid to just be out there and really nail it from a technical level, because he can and wants to be.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may be the thirty-second MCU movie, but it's among the rare few that serves as simultaneously as epic popcorn fun and a meaningful and iconic cinematic storytelling with enough gusto to it to send one to tears at the thought of it. And, while the finality isn't quite a clean slate, the bunch of beloved a-holes absolutely get an emotional and worthy sendoff.
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