REVIEW – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 (2023)

Quite possibly the best conclusion to any trilogy ever, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 is not only a thrilling space adventure but also an emotional roller coaster.

I’ve really enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Not only are they fantastic adventures set to amazing soundtracks but the characters are so much fun and you’re made to give a damn about every single one of them. Having said that, these movies sit just outside my top 5 Marvel Studios films, although, I think that may have changed with Volume 3.

As far as conclusions of movie trilogies go, Volume 3 is a wonderful culmination of an adventure that began nearly a decade ago. Fans have become invested in these characters over the course of multiple films and writer-director James Gunn has crafted a story that takes full advantage of that emotional investment. Your mileage may vary on how heavy-handed you feel it all is as Gunn pulls on every single heartstring for maximum effect but personally, I felt that it was absolutely necessary to go that hard.

Also, taking into consideration all the different movie trilogies out there, this is quite possibly the best final chapter of any of them. That sounds like hyperbole but the way Volume 3 tackles many of the previous story threads and continues the theme of found family that the first two films have had as their core, it makes it all feel like a cohesive adventure with (mostly) satisfying arcs for everyone.

When it comes to performances, everyone seems to be bringing their A-game quite obviously because this is possibly the final time for any and all of them. However, there are quite a few standouts, some that deserve all the attention and praise that they’re getting. It was always going to be interesting to see how a “reset” of the character was to play with the other characters that audiences have grown with but Gamora (Zoe Saldana) does really well as the version of her that never met Peter Quill and the Guardians. There is an understandably frustrating aspect to Gamora too that you almost think comes from Gunn himself and perhaps a secret dissatisfaction with her fate in Infinity War but this does provide an opportunity to address certain criticisms some folks had with the romance between Peter and Gamora as well as some amusing and heartfelt moments too.

Most of the audience won’t care or have any context to this but there was always major anticipation from the online geek set in regards to the appearance of Adam Warlock (Will Pouter). While he isn’t as front and centre as some would have liked, for my money Warlock is utilised rather well as antagonist and comic relief. In a film already filled with quirky characters, something about his delivery and the way he’s such a powerful character juxtaposed with being a big dumb baby really does work well in this context.

To some it may sound like retconning or marketing spin but James Gunn’s revelation that Rocket (Bradley Cooper) has always been the “secret protagonist” of the Guardians films very much rings true especially when you see how his story culminates in Volume 3. It genuinely feels like it’s all been building up to this and Cooper brings all the emotional depth and dignity to Rocket, which should not be surprising as we should all be a long way past the hump about CG characters (look at the way people reacted to the death of Groot all the way back in the first film).

It now seems forever ago that film snobs were criticising the quality and impact of Marvel villains on the big screen but if there was ever a villain that could finally squash those discussions it’s this portrayal of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). For all the tiresome talk about sympathetic and relatable bad guys, the High Evolutionary is perhaps the cruellest villain in the MCU as he is such an irredeemable monster absent of any “humanity” even at his lowest and it makes it so easy for you to truly hate him. Iwuji does a fantastic job of gradually becoming unhinged as the story progresses and his ultimate fate is truly satisfying.

That very cruelty makes Volume 3 a much darker film than one would anticipate for all the comedy and levity these films are known for (but then again Volume 2 was rather dark too when you think about it). Aside from the obvious tackling of animal cruelty as we finally delve into Rocket’s backstory, it also feels like a “young person’s guide to” the evils of eugenics, which is heavy subject matter even at the best of times.

That very darkness further enhances the hope and joyfulness this film also provides. You can’t help but get excited for the heroic moments, feel the swell of emotion at the parts about family, and drown in sweet satisfaction when characters finally get what they deserve (both good and bad). It’s why the often overused “roller coaster of emotion” is extremely apt to describe this movie. It takes you all over the place, and while some may not get as teary as others over this film, you’re guaranteed to feel some way about these characters by the end.

(L-R): Will Poulter as Adam Warlock in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo by Jessica Miglio. © 2022 MARVEL.

As wonderful a final chapter this is, there are little things that prevent Volume 3 from being spot on perfect (although that’s always such a lofty goal anyway). One might criticise that both Peter and Rocket have far too similar back stories (powerful bad guys doing a generic engineering) but that feels like overthinking and could be better attributed to shared experiences as well as being part of the overall theme of what it means to have/be part of a family these films have been dealing with.

There is so much going on in this movie and even at nearly two and a half hours a lot of it feels crammed in. Because most of the story goes at quite the clip, some of the quieter moments feel a tad jarring in relation and the some of the jokes (even though still funny) feel dragged out in order to fill those moments. Covering so much story also probably leads to a few noticeable hand waves and contrivances out of necessity but they are easily excused as there’s so much that’s done so well in this movie.

The Guardians of the Galaxy films are known for their “needle drops” and quite possibly responsible for reigniting that trend in other films for a brief moment. However, I’m not certain they all work as well in Volume 3 (with the exception of two songs, which I won’t spoil). The “Awesome Mix Tapes” have always been diegetic (in context and heard by the characters) in these films but there seemed to be extra effort in featuring the Zune this time around, which felt a little too obvious and strangely like product placement.

Investment in these characters is perhaps the key to all of this and while so many long-time MCU fans have had a decade to embrace these characters, a more casual viewer (or even a much younger viewer who may not have seen the previous films) will unlikely have the same investment. Most films are supposed to make you care about the characters anyway within a single narrative but that’s why this film goes so hard just in case. These characters are the very core of these movies: this rag-tag group of misfits who have found each other, made a difference to the galaxy, and created something great despite their own differences.

As a closing chapter of this side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 is a thrilling and heartfelt adventure that offers plenty of satisfactory moments and resolutions as well as makes you glad to have met this broken bunch of a-holes.

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