REVIEW — “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
James Gunn’s intergalactic rock opera takes its final bow in an emotionally epic MCU finale. Spoilers ahead!
Following the events of Disney+’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 finds the team still milling around on Knowhere: Groot (Vin Diesel) and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) are hanging signs, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) are cracking jokes, and Nebula (Karen Gillan) is cleaning up after Starlord’s depressed bingers. You see, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still down in the dumps over the loss of his beloved Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and has turned to the bottle to cope.
However, Quill must sober up quickly when Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a powerful, genetically-engineered being, blasts into Knowhere and triggers a kill switch implanted inside Rocket (Bradley Cooper) by his “creator” the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). This event sends the Guardians on a mission throughout the galaxy to save their raccoon friend; however, the action continuously cuts back and forth to flashbacks of Rocket’s traumatic genesis.
The final curtain call for James Gunn’s take on The Guardians of the Galaxy is a supernova of emotions, not all of them good. Sure, the film is big on jokes (especially from Mantis and Drax) and delivers a ton of popcorn-munching action, but included with the exhilaration is frustration, disappointment, and annoyance.
With all the to-do about the introduction of Adam Warlock into the MCU, the character is a revealed to be nothing more than a powerful himbo. While Poulter was inspired casting and is funny as usual, his version of Warlock is an idiotic man-child with no agency of his own.
The film also took some big creative swings; not only does it feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first F-bomb, but it also includes several scenes of disturbing CGI animal cruelty that may be a bit traumatic for younger or squeamish audiences. However, some of the film’s best tension results from the fallout of Avengers: Endgame, in which Gamora was sacrificed and the Guardians (excluding Rocket) were all dusted for five long years. After a run-in with the alive but time-displaced Gamora, Quill must some to terms with his feelings and accept that the Gamora he loved is gone.
While it is an unfair comparison, Endgame has become the gold standard of MCU films: the one entry that all films are now measured against. What made Endgame so great and lasting was its permanence. There were high stakes and real sacrifices. I was expecting the same from what was built up as a grand finale for The Guardians of the Galaxy.
While Rocket is in peril for most of the film’s runtime, Vol. 3 ultimately lacks the dramatic weight and permanence of a final installment. Instead, we got another chapter in their continuing story that just lumbers loudly from needle-drop to needle-drop with over-the-top action and strenuous jokes.
I expected one of the Guardians to die to give the film more dramatic heft. I’m looking at you, Drax. And yet the entire team lives to fight another day, even though several actors have openly declared that they have retired their portrayal of these characters. Based on the trailers alone, I was certain that someone would be killed off, but nope. Drax? Alive and well. Almost-Gamora? Still kicking. Rocket? Not only survives, but is promoted to team captain. Even Starlord’s ice-cold near-death experience out in space was anticlimactic and redundant. (They already pulled that in Vol. 2.)
I really wanted to love this movie, but it was just ok. Good, but not great. The film I saw was an unfulfilling send off to some of my favorite MCU characters. Maybe it was the wait. James Gunn was fired and rehired, which significantly delayed the release of this film. Whatever it was, Vol. 3 abruptly stopped this feeling deep inside of me.
Ooga chaka, indeed. 3/5
Rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours, 29 minutes, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens in U.S. theaters on May 5, 2023.