Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Marvel Cinematic Universe fans are no doubt giddy with anticipation of two of the things they like best about the MARVEL franchise — the arrival of the third installment in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series and the return of its director James Gunn. If you’re not up on all things MARVEL, Gunn had been fired from Disney, MARVEL’s parent company, back in 2018 because of some tasteless tweets he put out between 2008 and 2012. The execs at Disney got a lot of flak for their decision and an online petition urging the company to reinstate Gunn garnered over 400,000 signatures. In July 2018, the GOTG cast members also released a joint statement in support of Gunn. Eight months later, Gunn was rehired and all was forgiven.

Or was it? With the merger of Warner Bros. with Discovery in 2022, changes were being made to Warner’s own superhero movie franchise, the DC Extended Universe. It’s no secret that the DCEU had been far less successful that the MCU, and the suits at the new Warner Bros. Discovery wanted to see that situation change. The execs made Gunn an offer he couldn’t refuse. He is now the co-chair and CEO of the rebranded DC Studios with control over films, animation and television projects bbased on characters from DC Comics. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is his last hurrah with MARVEL.

Some time has passed since Gamora (Zoe Saldaña, AMSTERDAM) died in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (that’s not a spoiler by this point) and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER) is still bereft over the loss, but when the rebuilt GOTG headquarters on Knowwhere is attacked by the powerful Adam Warlock (Will Poulter, MIDSOMMAR), both Quill’s and the other Guardians’ thoughts quickly turn to Rocket (Bradley Cooper, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES) who is severely injured. It seems that the anthropomorphic raccoon is going to die unless the gang can find the code that will turn off the kill switch that is implanted in Rocket’s brain. Their journey takes them to the Orgosphere, where the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, TV’s THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD) has been conducting experiments on animals in the hopes of turning them into highly evolved animal-human hybrids. Rocket, it turns out, has been the High Evolutionary’s greatest achievement to date and he wants Rocket back so that he can see what he did right. While the Guardians look for the code with help from the Ravagers and, in particular, one of their newer recruits, they also have to deal with Adam and his creator, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki, TENET; TV’s THE CROWN), and take on the High Evolutionary and his minions. Rocket, meanwhile, lies in a coma of sorts. As he nears death, he remembers the pivotal moments in his life that have brought him to this place.

If this is the cinematic end for this family of misfits, and I doubt it will be, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is a nice send-off. There are some wonderful moments of banter and bickering here between the Guardians, and our heroes are each given their moment in the sun to shine, which they all do. Nebula (Karen Gillan, THE BIG SHORT), Drax (Dave Bautista, KNOCK AT THE CABIN) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff, UNCUT GEMS), in particular, are especially good.

Like all the GOTG films, ’80s music features prominently in VOL. 3 and Gunn has once again chosen some winning tunes. (I’m amazed that he hadn’t overmined the whole decade by this point.) This film, as well, is very sentimental, particularly with Rocket’s backstory, and it works. If you’ve ever wondered what makes the raccoon tick, you’ll find out here.

The film falters, however, with its runtime, which clocks in at 2-1/2 hours. It’s the longest of the three films in the series and it suffers from the same bloatedness that so many other MARVEL films do. Twenty minutes of the third act could have easily been chopped from the film. The MARVEL-standard grand showdown between the story’s heroes and villains, with all of its CGI-ness, is drawn out for longer than it had any right to be. Part of the problem here is that there are far too many characters and their story arcs all needed to have resolution. Presumably, Adam Warlock, who is pretty much wasted here, will be seen again but I question whether the story really needed to have a cameo by Nathan Fillion (TV’s CASTLE) and a reprise appearance by Sylvester Stallone.

All in all, though, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is still entertaining. It’s certainly more enjoyable than its predecessor but it’s not as riotous as the original.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is playing in cinemas around the world now (May 4th).

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