GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3 review by Mark Walters – James Gunn brings the trilogy to a shaky close

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3 review by Mark Walters – James Gunn brings the trilogy to a shaky close

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It’s been an interesting decade-long journey for the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Marvel Studios first introduced these characters on the big screen in 2013 under director James Gunn, who proved to be a smart choice for the franchise, coming from a background of high concept low-budget comedies. The movie spawned its two sequels, and in between the Guardians themselves appeared in two AVENGERS movies, a THOR film, and even got a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL on Disney+, which is very important to see before seeing their latest adventure, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3. But it’s also notable that Gunn almost didn’t make this third outing, as there was a brief firing of him from Marvel due to old controversial Tweets brought up by a Conservative smear campaign, and the director actually went to DC / Warner Bros. to make THE SUICIDE SQUAD. Eventually Marvel rehired Gunn, and he finished the new film, only to return to DC and become co-head of DC Films… sometimes the wheels turn fast in Hollywood. But it seems only fitting that the last adventure we take with the original GUARDIANS team be helmed by the man who first brought them to cinematic life.

Following the events of the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL, and before that AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and AVENGERS: ENDGAME, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is still lamenting over his love Gamora (Zoe Saldana) losing her memories of them together due to her father Thanos and his power-hungry actions. As the Guardians try to settle in to their new digs on Knowhere (a sort of disembodied giant head of a planet inhabited by different races of alien creatures), they’re tortured by Quill’s depressed drinking and moping. They are attacked suddenly by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a superpowered being with a childlike mind. The purpose of this attack is to capture Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) as we learn his creator The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) needs him back to study his brain. The Guardians do their best to defeat Warlock, but in the process Rocket is gravely injured, and the only way to save him is to obtain The High Evolutionary’s technology, meaning they must go to see the very man who attacked them. Along the way they discover this man is attempting to create a “Counter Earth” that is better than the real Earth in every way. They also reteam with Gamora, but not ‘their’ Gamora, making Quill’s anguish that much more stressful.

There are great moments peppered throughout this new GUARDIANS movie, some of which will likely become classics for hardcore Marvel Studios fans. But the overall film pretty disjointed. The story of the team hunting down The High Evolutionary to save Rocket isn’t much of a story, and the better story of Rocket’s creation of early life is told in broken up format by way of flashbacks, or rather visions Rocket is having while out of consciousness. And Rocket’s origin is disturbing, a sort of bleak commentary on animal testing and experimentation. Save for the character of Lylla (voiced by Linda Cardellini), a ferret with mechanical arms who befriends Rocket when he’s first enhanced, the rest of these sequences are just sad and unsettling stuff, and will likely be very disturbing to kids. Then there’s the overall tone of the film, which with the exception of a few moments of levity is quite dark and at times a bit mean. All of the characters are yelling at each other, there’s little sense of fun or adventure, which the first two movies seemed to excel at. Everyone is fighting and angry… like all the time, and it starts to bring down the experience a bit, even if the final moments have some great action and attempts at a happy ending.

This outing just feels different, it’s a departure from the whimsical nature of the first two movies, and the characters are not as entertaining as before. And at two hours and 30 minutes, it really feels long and rambling at times. Chris Pratt’s take on Peter Quill here just seems frustrated and exasperated. There’s a moment where The High Evolutionary is explaining his plans and motivations, and Quill is just groaning and telling him he doesn’t care, like an angry child that isn’t getting what they want… and it’s kind of like that all through the movie. Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who was so fun and cheery in the HOLIDAY SPECIAL is just sad and angry here too, missing the sense of excitement and positivity she usually has. It’s hard to like Zoe Saldana as Gamora this time around because she’s so disconnected emotionally from the team, and really doesn’t seem interested in getting to know them better. And Dave Bautista as Drax is trying his best, but doesn’t seem to find much substance to his character this time around. Even Chukwudi Iwuji, who is really giving it his all to make The High Evolutionary feel like a powerful and unhinged villain, comes across like he’s overselling it and trying too hard. Oddly two of the best characters here are two that are used sparingly, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, and Maria Bakalova as Cosmo the Space Dog… they will likely become fan favorites from this outing. There’s also an odd but somewhat funny supporting role by Nathan Fillion that is entertaining, and it was cool to see Sylvester Stallone return briefly in a few scenes.

This is definitely Rocket’s movie, and Bradley Cooper solidifies why his contribution to that character is so important. There is one scene in particular involving Rocket emoting painfully, and Cooper really sells it with his voice work. The animal experiment scenes are hard to watch though, and I think many may find them upsetting and off-putting. Gunn tried to find some sweetness in there, but it’s mostly just unpleasant to watch. I also found myself disappointed with some of the anticipated subplots here, such as Adam Warlock’s introduction, or the Peter Quill / Gamora romance resolution… we’re never given much to embrace with Adam Warlock, he’s just a bull in a China shop that doesn’t seem to pay off to much, and (minor spoiler here) shockingly the distance and heartbreak with Peter and Gamora is never actually resolved at all by the end of the film, which left me wondering how they couldn’t find a way to get that right.

As I stated earlier, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3 has its moments, and tries to deliver many of the aspects fans have grown to love, but I couldn’t help finding it to be the weakest overall of the three movies, and it definitely left me wanting, which is odd for a film with such a long run time. The most obvious difference here is the tone and pacing, which is dark and slow. Perhaps James Gunn was feeling weird about his Marvel Studios break up and reunion, or his brief move to DC changed his perspective, but this third and perhaps final GUARDIANS film is definitely a departure of sorts from the first two. Even the music is more modern and less inspired and classic as what we got in the first two movies. If you’re planning to see this new one, I strongly suggest you watch the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL as there are a lot of connections and references to what we saw there. Also make sure to stick around for two credit scenes.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3 opens May 5, 2023

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.