Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3

By Andy Spoors
By May 4, 2023 Film, Reviews

Before we go any further, right off the rip, it is worth addressing the elephant in the room. Since the end credits of Avengers Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become…messy. That is a polite way of saying it has become a heaving, sprawling, cultural zeitgeist of modern day cinema, that has begun to spiral out of control.

It now finds itself an easy target for critics and “traditional” filmmakers to take aim at. Even loaded with special effects and a plethora of characters over a number of platforms, the MCU has become everything comic books have tried to steer away from. Predictable.

Movies and TV shows have veered drastically from comedy to complicated. New characters have been poorly received and fan favourites heavily altered. But in the somewhat self-contained Galaxy our Guardians find themselves in, thankfully, those issues have not yet seeped through.

Briefly appearing in the polarising fourth installment of Thor, as well as a quirky Christmas special featuring Kevin Bacon, the Guardians of the Galaxy have been closely guarded by director James Gunn and for good reason.

Here, throughout its nearly 150-minute runtime, it is abundantly clear to see why. Each character has been meticulously crafted and lovingly written to flit seamlessly between humour and heart. Since bursting onto the big screen, Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot et al, have transformed from relative obscurity to beloved heroes.

In its third and final volume with Gunn in the director seat, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that at any moment we may have to say goodbye to all or at least a few of these ragtag bunch of misfits. Something he seemingly and gleefully steers into on numerous occasions.

Starting with a very apt and foreshadowing version of Radiohead’s Creep (“I wanna have control, I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul, I want you to notice when I’m not around…”) the action starts almost immediately and the film’s mission is laid out. Our heroes must find a way to uncover the secrets of Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) past in order to save his life.

And it is in Rocket’s past that we are introduced not only to the villain of the story, but some of the sweetest and most heartbreaking moments in MCU history. A baby raccoon would be enough in itself, but to further delve into just why Rocket is the way he is, gives a layer of emotion rarely seen in Marvel’s sprawling universe.

Thankfully, it is emotion that fuels every scene. From laugh-out-loud quotes, to the sting of a complex unrequited love and back again, Gunn is meticulous and masterful in crafting character interactions.

The introduction of Rocket’s first friends Lylla, Teefs the Walrus, and Floor the Rabbit, will no doubt prove to be one of the movie’s main talking points. A departure from the original source material, their inclusion here adds a level of depth rarely afforded to even main characters elsewhere in Marvel.

The previously mentioned bad guy comes in the shape of High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) an inventor in pursuit of perfection in the universe. An exquisite juxtaposition of an adversary for a bunch of heroes that are as far from perfect as possible.

Away from the main story arc, there is time for each character to shine in their own way. Darx (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) each make the most of their screen time to add layers to previous supporting roles.

Even the film’s minor thread involving an affronted Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova) repeatedly hits its mark. It would be remiss not to mention the movie’s soundtrack, which as expected, is as perfectly curated as the previous two installments. Delving into multiple decades before culminating in Bruce Springsteen’s Badlands (“Let the broken hearts stand, as the price you’ve gotta pay”), rest assured the third vinyl won’t look out of place in your collection.

It’s an eclectic mix of not just different decades, but wildly different genres too. Where the first movie showcased funks, soul and disco, this volume bounces from Earth Wind & Fire to Faith No More. Alice Cooper to Florence + The Machine. These films have always been closely tied thematically to their soundtrack. The assortment of tracks used further outlines the turmoil and fractious storylines our protagonists find themselves in, while desperately clinging to every bit of joy they can share before the unthinkable.

The movie, like its motley crew, is by no means perfect. For casual viewers, the middle act of the movie may sag under the weight of affording so much time to each character. A heartbroken and forlorn Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is somewhat sidelined in favour of delving into Rocket’s past (“This was always your story, you just didn’t know it”) and the inclusion of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) threatens to over complicate proceedings.

However, Warlock’s presence here seems to have one eye on the MCU’s future. One final outlandish character to add to the repertoire, a parting gift as it were from James Gunn, before his departure to the head of rival studio DC Comics.

It is unfathomable that Marvel has allowed the creator of arguably the most well-rounded trilogy on their books leave to head up their competition. If anything, Guardians 3 reinforces the idea that directors need to understand the characters of their movies to truly get the best out of them.

A bittersweet return to form for a big-screen Marvel movie. But at what cost? Fans of Batman and Superman should be excited for their future in the hands of someone that just seems to understand what comic movies should be. Fun.