'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' Review
May 4, 2023
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a James Gunn film through and through, which is what automatically makes it the best MCU film since Avengers: Endgame (I know that’s an overused statement, but it’s completely true in this case, even if the bar has been continually lowered since 2019). With this supposed swan song, Gunn joins the “illustrious” ranks of Jon Watts (Spider-Man) and Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) as the only directors to see their respective trilogies to till the end (the Russo brothers are also unofficial members for their continuation of the Captain America storyline into the latter Avengers movies). Gunn sits above those mentioned simply because he also solely fulfills the role of writer, allowing a sense of a distinct personality into these over-wielding blockbusters.
The Guardians have settled on Knowhere after the events of Endgame, with Peter Quill / Star-Lord still being heartbroken over his breakup with Gamora after she was resurrected after being killed by Thanos (there are a lot more details, but we don’t have enough margin space for all that). Continuing their streak of the worst luck in the universe, the peaceful times are immediately interrupted by Adam Warlock, a shinier version of Superman with the mind of a child. But his brawn overpowers his mental deficiency, as he mortally injures Rocket. The raccoon’s altered anatomy prevents him from being operated on, forcing the Guardians to track down his creator, the all-powerful High Evolutionary.
Because Gunn has spent the two initial entries in this trilogy building a sense of camaraderie and a deep emotional connection within this makeshift family, he’s partly excused from the sin of having this movie essentially a series of fetch quests. We go to a place to grab a thing, only for that plan to fail, meaning we have to go to another place for another thing. But unlike the other MCU movies, the stakes here center around just one person we dearly care about, which grossly trounces a universe filled with nobodies. Hell, I would gladly let Arishem from Eternals consume the Earth (with me included) if it meant Rocket would immediately recover from his wounds.
That deep affection for Rocket also fuels the horror and sadness of his backstory, which includes cruel experimentation upon hapless animals (Gunn cheats a bit by giving these furry creatures the wettest and cutest eyes he possibly could). The unsettling imagery heavily leans upon Gunn’s horror roots, a refreshing sight in this clean-cut universe.
Another nice sight is proper visual effects and production values. There’s a night and day difference between this and Quantumania, with Rocket rivaling the work of the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy in terms of giving expressiveness to a fully visual character. While he’s never once been on-screen in person, Bradley Cooper has been the MVP of this group thanks to his impressive voice work. Gunn made the right choice focusing a substantial portion of the story on Rocket.
Still, there’s a bit too much restraint in allowing this story to go further down the route it seems to want to explore. Whether it be because of super-producer Kevin Feige’s demands or Gunn’s inability to push himself, the swings are never followed through, resulting in a respectable double instead of a home run. It also doesn’t help that the High Evolutionary is a highly watered-down version of Kang, complete with Shakespearean soliloquies about death and a generic purpose for his villainy. He’ll likely place near the lower end of the middle in all future MCU villain rankings.
With Gunn now off to run DC Studios (maybe he’ll be the first person to make a good Superman movie?) and Marvel shifting focus to their newer/younger characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a welcome and proper sendoff for the cast and crew of this successful franchise. It’s a distillation of what the MCU aims to deliver: heart, humor, and an all-around entertaining time.