Review: Remember feeling overwhelmed and fulfilled leaving a Marvel movie? Neither did I, until I saw James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 – an emotional gut punch and a perfect swan song to this set of weirdos. The first must-see Marvel film in a while.
I’m not offering any new insight when I saw that Marvel Studios has been at a crisis point for the last few titles now. The gooped up Ant-Man: Quantumania and bloated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever only instilled more fear that Marvel had lost its cultural step and that they didn’t seem ready to bridge the old with the new post-Endgame. I’m not sure Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 dispels these notions entirely, but it’s certainly a step up and is quite possibly the best the institution has offered since the last Avengers property.
And frankly, I’m not sure whether I should be surprised as I write that. After all, James Gunn has been one of the more reliable directors for Marvel since he introduced the wacky space patrol back in 2014 – a movie that I wrote about earlier this week and continues to be the best example of Marvel trying to rip off Star Wars – and he’s shown a reliability to cut through some of the tensionless fodder MCU movies normally bring; his comedic timing seems to be the only comedic timing that works inside this universe without breaking the truly cinematic moments.
Yet with the recent spike in mediocre studio projects for Marvel, combined with Gunn’s firing and subsequent rehiring for this film, and the fact that I just didn’t really care for Vol. 2 in a real way, I entered nervous. At some point, the studio would revert to old ways, or the jig would be up. If they couldn’t get the Guardians of the Galaxy a quality sendoff, it would be another stain on the current Disney resume.
But luckily for everyone with something to gain or lose here, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 not only offers a satisfying and emotional goodbye to many of the characters, but it also utterly smokes much of the previous material in this universe that has recently hit theaters. At nearly two hours and thirty minutes, Vol. 3 feels like the first Marvel epic since Spider-Man: No Way Home and will give the studio a bit more wiggle room to get reorganized heading into the future.
Unlike the previous two Guardians of the Galaxy entries that focused a majority of their stories on Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, Vol. 3 focuses its sights on the rowdy, crass Rocket the Raccoon. These movies have always been reluctant to give any information regarding Rocket’s background or history beyond the fact that he is the product of lab experiments and that he escaped and became a bounty hunter. Much like the first two installments digging heavily into the guarded and reluctant nature of Quill, Vol. 3 offers many of the reasons for Rocket’s attitude and perspective on life and those surrounding him.
Peter Quill, still grieving the loss of Gamora, must rally his team of Guardians to defend the universe, their home, and one of their own. If they can’t successfully complete the mission to defeat the sinister plot brewing in the depths of space, it may just spell the end of the Guardians as we know them.
At first glance, what stood out to me about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 was that it actually looked finished. I know this feels like a low bar for a studio that pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into their projects (Vol. 3 clocks in at about $250 million) but recent history suggests that many of the VFX in these films look clunky and increasingly more unrealistic. You can feel the soundstage settings oozing out of the Quantum Realm in Quantumania and even the occasionally distracting final battle sequence in No Way Home. There are very few moments in Vol. 3 that even make me question whether they went through the effort of building real props and sets.
This may feel like snobby, film-bro stuff, but the quality is clearly amped up in Vol. 3 – as if these characters can actually interact with the environment around them instead of trying to fit in with a universe built in post-production and editing. It helps you immerse and adjust as a viewer in real time to the different planets and locations that they go to throughout. I had always liked much of James Gunn’s productions prior to this movie for these reasons. He seems to care about the quality level in his films more than other directors who may just be there for the paycheck or the big budget. Gunn loves making these films, and it always shines through in an overwhelming, sensory-overloading way.
I’ve had issues in the past with a few of the supporting characters in this franchise feeling incomplete or without a full bag of emotions. Drax (played by Dave Bautista, really turning a corner for me with his last few performances) never fully clicked for me, although his jokes have gotten me to chuckle more than anything else in these movies. He completely wins me over with a story in the third act that fully comes to fruition.
Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets more to do in this film than in any of the previous ones and she takes full advantage of it. Nebula and Groot continue to show new sides and layers (and foliage) as they continue to open up and develop new character traits beyond being closed off and saying “I am Groot,” respectively. Peter Quill has always felt like the most complete character in this story, but Chris Pratt’s performance as the Star-Lord has me reconsidering how I feel about him as a dramatic actor. He steals scenes frequently as he grieves and processes trauma happening to those around him. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve walked away feeling hopeful about his future endeavors.
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And yet, AND YET, the story is singularly focused on the Bradley Cooper-voiced, bad mouthing furry creature. It’s certainly laid on thick (occasionally too emotional for my taste), but Rocket’s story here feels as emotionally genuine as nearly anything built inside of a single Marvel movie. Vol. 3 uses a sweeping layer of flashbacks that help uncover the scars to Rocket’s background and the loss he’s endured that makes him difficult to crack.
It’s the pathos that these Marvel movies have been trying to artificially manufacture for years that they haven’t been able to get right in a while. You come to see the quippy jokes and arrogant assumptions by the team of Guardians, but you stay for what Rocket’s backstory brings to this franchise – one that I’m sad to see leaving just as it hits its peak. I thought about it afterwards, I slept on it, and I woke up thinking it – this is the best Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
I can’t believe James Gunn pulled it off. I can’t believe Marvel let James Gunn pull it off. The movie combines a heavy dosage of love and care, and a villain that breaks the trend of sympathetic sad boys. It’s able to turn on a dime from Drax and Mantis’ best jokes yet, to large action set pieces that James Gunn is able to direct with ease (a struggle he had with the first two. Seriously, there’s an incredible one shot in here that rules and probably rules even more in IMAX *sad face*), to a gripping story of family and emotional scars that help build who you are.
I left Vol. 3 wondering if it would’ve been better off without a villain entirely. It’s possible, but I don’t want to mess with what we got. Although a bit too emotionally mining at times, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is easily Marvel’s best product in years. James Gunn delivers his best movie yet, too, and sets the new bar for upcoming properties in this lane. Not just one of the best superhero entries we’ll get this year, but one of the best movies period. I loved it.
Where to stream Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3: Disney+, VOD
Film Cast and Credits
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Zoe Saldaña as Gamora
Bradley Cooper as Rocket
Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer
Karen Gillan as Nebula
Pom Klementieff as Mantis
Vin Diesel as Groot
Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary
Will Poulter as Adam Warlock
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn
Cinematography: Henry Braham
Composer: John Murphy
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie on Letterboxd
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 movie on IMDb