Ah, you were so close, James Gunn, to putting the mark you desired as you bid farewell to the MCU (and flocking over to creative duties at rival DC Studios). Indubitably, not every film can be as nihilistic and fascinatingly audacious as The Suicide Squad, or as zany and stylistically clever as the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but for a director who prides himself on the backbeats of innovative soundtracks and black humor, his trilogy stamp on the beloved group of misfits ever-so-slightly misses that mark of excellence.
Don’t get us wrong; this is a definitive step up from the mediocre Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania that screamed, “Marvel fatigue might be here” in the past year. Heck, I’d be one to argue that Gunn’s latest work feels like a redux of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, a sign that even in a weary age of bombastic Marvel formulas and chaotic intergalactic skirmishes, sometimes pulling back with a more condensed tale and focusing on the harrowing beats of our heroes can ensure audiences keep this universe close to their hearts. Marvel needs to incorporate this wondrous strategy into their arsenal again, especially if they’re trying to keep audiences roped in for the next sequel (or prequel or reboot) in the chugging machine to spit out as the clock ticks on the subsequent mammoth-sized Avengers work.
A few months after the fun, sweet Holiday Special, the Guardians of the Galaxy are headquartered on the rebuilt Knowhere. The goofy, unabashed captain Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has been drinking himself to his exhaustion as he cannot get over the loss of his bad-ass, beloved Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Well, after some timeline changes in Endgame, Gamora Mark Two is around but has no memory of her past and stands testy and firm against the crew. We still also have Peter’s antennae empath half-sister Mantis (Pom Klementieff), goofy but lovable Drax (Dave Bautista), sharp-tongued Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), our favorite tree Groot (Vin Diesel), and reformed but still agitated Nebula (Karen Gillan). Some new players join the fold in this adventure, including Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova), the childish, powerful Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), and the new villain, The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).
Vol. 2 was an insight into Peter Quill’s backstory, but Vol. 3 is Rocket’s story: a mortifying insight into animal abuse and how Rocket became subject “89P13” in The High Evolutionary’s collection. The madman wanted to usher in a master race of genetically engineered creatures to manifest the “perfect beings.” When Rocket finally saw the devil, he had to break free and escape and had been on the run his entire life. Here, he gets severely wounded by Adam Warlock (under the rule of the Evolutionary), and the team races to acquire a kill code to deactivate the kill switch, or they’ll lose their friend. Gunn promptly puts the audience in a mind-numbing state from the opening, as the tone kicks in that this will not be a glorious adventure.
Yet, still, for the most part, there’s that galore sense of fun that we’ve become accustomed to with Gunn and friends as the Guardians bask in pranksterish humor and colorful action to the backdrop of some great tunes (Spacehog, Rainbow, and Bruce Springsteen are automatic wins in this writer’s book). The characters are the show’s stars, as Gunn respects them as much as he prides on them delivering their moments, one of the most consistent parts of this series. That hallway fight scene in the third act embodies the very spectacle and joy of our band of bizarre heroes.
The irreverent humor, though, is also the film’s greatest weakness this time around. It feels like a forceful tidbit alongside a more weighty direction concerning Rocket’s backstory and the attempt to create a sense of genuine catharsis. The mean streak stands subordinate to cluttered moments of narrative multitasking and the illusion of a franchise finale. Even with an imposing Iwuji performance, he still loses much luster when all is said and done. Even more, Poulter’s fish-out-of-water character sticks out like an outlier, netting him minor jocular results. Gunn tried to cram as much as he could in one go for his sendoff, but it was slightly tedious and somewhat dull for the moments that should have been popping more. Even the first F-bomb in the MCU could be argued as warranted, but they might’ve been better off using it earlier.
After re-watching the two predecessors, the volumes slightly dip in quality each time, partially due to the repetitiveness of the fun and colors we’re accustomed to. But as a cohesive whole, Vol. 3 radiates with earnestness and moving moments, and a refreshment in Marvel’s catalog of (most) post-Thanos films that seem directionless as is futile. Marvel made the proper call to rehire Gunn to finish what he had started.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 roars with confidence and emotions that prove James Gunn was the right man in charge to lead this quirky set of heroes for a decade. Even if (and when) the next volume releases down the line, they’ll have his blessing.
Great review of the movie! Very in depth!
I personally enjoyed the movie a lot and thought it’s been one of better movies in the MCU’s recent catalog.
Appreciate it! It’s indeed one of the better ones as of late.