THE STORY – Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill must rally his team to defend the universe and protect one of their own. If the mission is not completely successful, it could possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.
THE CAST – Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Maria Bakalova & Sylvester Stallone
THE TEAM – James Gunn (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 150 Minutes
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been through a rough transitional period over the last few years. Original cast members are leaving, and replacements are quickly attempting to follow in their footsteps. Take Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Panther, and more. Fans of the MCU have consistently been saying goodbye to their heroes after, more or less, a decade of entertainment. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” serves a similar purpose, as James Gunn gathers the galaxy’s best misfits for a final curtain call that ends what he started in 2014.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” picks off where the MCU left the Guardians after “Avengers: Endgame.” The team is based in Knowhere, and Peter (Chris Pratt) is depressed over Gamora being dead (or “not dead, she just doesn’t remember you,” as every other Guardian constantly corrects him). The team is, overall, tired and uninspired as they try to build new lives for themselves until Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is critically injured from a fight with Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), A powerful artificial being created by the Sovereign (still led by Elizabeth Debiki’s Ayesha) to destroy the Guardians. Quickly, the Guardians devise a plan to travel the galaxy to find any means to save their friend. While on their journey, Rocket experiences flashbacks to his origins and dark past with the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a scientist from Counter-Earth who fancies himself a god as he creates hybrid creatures in hopes of achieving the perfect society.
The overall theme of a found family is and will always be the beating heart of the Guardians franchise. No other team within the MCU has a more powerful general bond than these characters do. They are more than a team that gets together every few years to save the world. The mismatch of distinct and strong personalities attracted audiences to these films, and Gunn is well aware of this. Each member has multiple moments (thanks to the lofty 150-minute runtime) to shine and work with their fellow actors as an ensemble. There is something about Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klemenieff, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel that just works and will always be this weird lighting-in-a-bottle type of dynamic.
Saldana, who is playing an alternate version of Gamora and has no history with the Guardians (other than Nebula), doesn’t hurt this dynamic. If anything, it adds a bittersweet dramatic irony for the audience. We know that our Gamora is gone, and even though this Gamora is more ruthless and adamant about not joining the team, we can still see aspects of the old Gamora that we loved as she begins to interact more and embrace the other members of the Guardians. Despite the sibling-like clashing of personalities, it is clear that the Guardians all love each other. Therefore, having the central conflict of traveling to the ends of the galaxy to save their friend is dramatically effective and works well with the emotional investment we already have in these characters. Watching them struggle and butt heads on a mission to heal their friend is both entertaining and tense. With this being Gunn’s final “Guardians” film before setting off on a new career at DC Studios, the stakes are felt more than ever before, even within the countless comedic moments.
As the marketing has heavily suggested, Rocket Raccoon takes center stage and is the character with the most complete arc out of the bunch. His backstory is, like all superheroes, dark but compelling for the story at hand. However, there are depictions of photorealistic animals undergoing depictions of torture and cruelty that are tough to watch. Gunn’s unflinching look at this brutality successfully makes the audience hate the High Evolutionary (given Shakespearean levels of derangement by Iwuji) and further empathize and root for Rocket and, therefore, his overall health in the present timeline of the film. But the scenes, although they consist of CG animals, are distressing to watch and may be unfit for younger audiences.
However, the action set pieces that Gunn and his team deployed are some of Marvel’s strongest in the past few years. It’s clear he viewed this as his final attempt to go all-out, and that he does as there are massive explosions, space battles, and a memorable hallway oner shot that MCU fans will lose their minds over, all set to the franchise’s typically awesome soundtrack selections. As the cosmic world of the MCU is constantly expanding, Gunn is able to play with all different types of ecosystems, which results in exciting worlds and the visual rules that come with them. The visual effects, makeup, stunt work, and overall production design are distinct for each galaxy and planet the Guardians interact with, resulting in each craft standing out as the best in the franchise. Each world the Guardians visit feels entirely different from the last, allowing the film to feel varied throughout.
This finality sticks out amongst other MCU installments because “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3” genuinely feels like an ending. Stakes are high, emotions are even more heightened, and character arcs are concluded. There is something comforting in this day and age of comic book films where every character “may” come back, but this does feel like a goodbye for a majority of these cast members. There are aspects of the film that drag, massive tonal shifts throughout, and by the end, Gunn is juggling a lot of thematic elements that don’t all quite gel together. But the film feels more like the third film of a trilogy than the 32nd film of the MCU, which is one of its positive attributes that many films or franchises refuse to have: a definite ending.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is an overall fun, exciting and emotional ending to what has been a consistently delightful trilogy within the MCU. Gunn is making his exit the same way he entered, on his own terms, telling a wild and peculiar story about a group of outsiders who reluctantly found each other and (accidentally) became a family along the way. Embracing each other’s weirdness and giving one another a second chance makes the Guardians a top-tier Marvel team. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and will hurt anyone who threatens any of them. Seeing them fight together for each other is nothing short of emotionally satisfying. Audiences may feel bittersweet leaving the theaters because it is evident that there is something special about the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films that will never be recaptured because it’s so distinctly James Gunn’s unique vision. When audiences get to the end credits and see still images from the last three films, it will inevitably sink in: we will miss them as they “fly away together into the forever and beautiful sky.”