Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’
For the final time, Guardians have geared up to save the galaxy from another existential threat.
Yes, the James Gunn era in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ended. But did Gunn and his team of superheroes go out with a bang or a whimper?
Here’s my review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is objectively Gunn’s best movie thus far.
A Direct Sequel…to a Christmas Special?!
When last we left Peter Quill and his friends, they were possibly introducing themselves to Gamora, saying goodbye to Thor, or spending Christmas together.
That odd but factually accurate statement explains why you may need to do some homework before you watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (GOTG3).
Here’s a quick refresher:
Since the Mary Poppins bit at the end of the last official Guardians movie, the team has overcome Thanos, adventured with Thor, and danced to this weird Christmas song:
Those of you who missed The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special won’t feel lost, although a couple of quick references may fly over your head.
The gist is that Mantis turned out to be the half-sister of Quill on their God-Planet side of the family.
Meanwhile, Gamora isn’t around because this character isn’t the one who died during Avengers: Infinity War. She’s a time-looped one from Avengers: Endgame.
Got all that?
If not, don’t worry! All you need to know is that the Guardians are once again one big happy family, although some of the names have changed.
Kraglin remains, and he’s picked up a pet, a sentient, telekinetic dog named Cosmo.
For her part, Gamora has joined the Ravagers, or as you may remember them, the Sylvester Stallone/Michelle Yeoh group of bandits and bounty hunters.
So, Quill and his ex (?) no longer live together on a ship or even in their new home, Knowhere, which is a hollowed-out head of a dead deity.
All this backstory underlines Marvel’s current problem. Some of the story ideas are in danger of collapsing under their own weight.
Thankfully, director James Gunn came up with an excellent plan.
The Worst Villain Possible
Ostensibly, the Guardians face several antagonists in this film, as that’s kinda their shtick. They alienate many of the powerful people they meet.
Some of those dangerous beings appear in GOTG3, and while they don’t quite work together, they create multiple dire threats.
Ayesha, the leader of the Sovereign, hasn’t forgotten that the Guardians failed her in the second film. She creates a son named Adam Warlock.
Comic book fans are giddy over the character’s arrival in the MCU, and actor Will Poulter proves perfect for the role. He’s just the right level of angry-funny.
Warlock isn’t the most formidable foe, though. That title goes to the High Evolutionary, whom you will despise in this film.
In storytelling, writers recognize that two kinds of villainous acts are unforgivable. One involves cruelty to children, and the other entails cruelty to animals.
The High Evolutionary does both.
Actor Chukwudi Iwuji fearlessly throws himself into the role of a mad scientist who happily plays God.
This being creates new species of genetic abominations, creatures with cybernetics forced upon them. And yes, Rocket Raccoon is one of them.
From the earliest stage of GOTG3, it becomes clear that we’re watching Rocket Raccoon’s origin story and possibly his revenge as well.
A clever storytelling decision ensures that Rocket doesn’t participate much in the present.
Instead, Gunn takes the Baby Groot approach by showing an adorable baby raccoon suffering at the hands of a highly motivated sociopath.
The High Evolutionary treats all his subjects as genetic failures, which places him in the crosshairs of the Guardians.
An Emotional Resonant Story
The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie proved so popular because it told a story about the family that orphan Peter Quill made along the way.
In the second movie, family once again played an integral role, as Quill met his super-strange father.
Even the holiday special told a gentle story about Quill learning that he had a long-lost sister.
In GOTG3, we learn how Rocket Raccoon met his first and second families. Without spoiling, this story even includes a teaser about a third.
Obviously, you’ll suffer through a bit of sadness along the way, as the High Evolutionary behaves monstrously at times.
For this reason, those of you who have strong connections with animals may struggle at times here. It’s an emotionally manipulative story…but in a good way.
We know the Marvel formula by now, and the villain has only won once. Even that one was somewhat debatable, as that character still went to prison.
So, I doubt you’ll feel unsafe here, but you absolutely will despise some of what transpires.
Humans are hardwired to dislike brutality, especially against children and animals.
Gunn knows this and gleefully manipulates the emotions of the audience throughout the story.
However, for the first time, the director tells a complete story. He demonstrates a confidence with this project that he’s lacked in the past.
You will care about every resident of Knowhere and worry for their safety at various points in GOTG3.
Even worse, since Marvel describes this as the climatic tale for the departing Gunn, you’ll feel a growing sense of dread that various Guardians may die.
Few movies over the past decade have made me feel the way that GOTG3 did.
A Movie with a Message
All the characters on the side of the Guardians feel fully formed and well-utilized.
Chris Pratt’s comic vulnerability shines through here, while Zoe Saldana relishes an opportunity to take a second approach to Gamora.
The trio of Mantis, Drax the Destroyer, and Nebula work together to highlight the story’s strongest message.
What is the nature of intelligence? Nebula’s cyborg nature and Thanos-based upbringing have altered her worldview.
The naturally optimistic, not always brilliant Drax perplexes Nebula, while Mantis appreciates both sides of this philosophical debate.
Their story resolves in a way that could cause you to reevaluate some of your relationships, as well as how you perceive loved ones.
For all the many impeccable qualities in Marvel movies, they’ve rarely made me think. The final Guardians movie did. In fact, I’m still thinking about it.
To his credit, Gunn clearly held a vision for how he wanted his Guardians story to end. And it’s a spectacular one.
This isn’t a run-of-the-mill superhero movie wherein the heroes and villains fight, with the outcome painfully obvious from the start.
GOTG3 is arguably the most challenging Marvel movie to date in that it aims higher. Impressively, Gunn sticks the landing, too.
You’ll exit the theater smiling even as you wonder what the future holds for some of these characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy stands unchallenged as the best (Disney) MCU movie since Avengers: Endgame. It’s a terrific film and a solid 9 out of 10.
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Featured image: Marvel