- Powerful character development
- Terrific action sequences
- Great villian
- May be too dark for children
- Takes a while to catch its footing
In “Vol 3”, James Gunn does it again and delivers an entertaining ride matched with a terrific villain, an emotionally devastating backstory and one of the best Marvel films post-Endgame.
In Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” our beloved band of misfits are settling into life on Knowhere. But it isn’t long before their lives are upended by the echoes of Rocket’s turbulent past. Peter Quill, still reeling from the loss of Gamora, must rally his team around him on a dangerous mission to save Rocket’s life—a mission that, if not completed successfully, could quite possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.
Writer-Director James Gunn has had a heck of a run these past few years. Coming off his cancel-culture exile from Disney’s Marvel Studios in 2018 to his new position of writing and directing DC Studios’ Suicide Squad sequel/reboot in 2019, to his reinstatement at Marvel to now being the co-head of chief at DC Studios. It’s kinda the biblical story of Job told in Hollywood form (but with way less suffering and a crap ton of more blessings in the end). Now here we are, James Gunn’s farewell to Marvel Studios and to the lovable ragtag team of assholes, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”. Still reeling from the loss of his lover Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is in a drunken stupor and not the leader he once was. Now, it’s up to Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Groot (Vin Diesel) to hold up the Guardian name and save the galaxy, stationed in the home of Knowhere. After a turn of events, Star-Lord reclaims his leader position and has to guide his team to save their best bud Rocket while also trying to stop a creation-obsessed ruler by the name of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji).
It takes a while for the third volume to find its footing, plot-wise. For the first thirty minutes or so of this 150-minute epic, we’re treated to the usual, Marvel formulaic humor and “immature grownup” superhero tropes that have been all but exhausted to this point. Yes, Star-Lord is meant to be a little dim and Pratt has always sold the stupidity well but to paraphrase James Cameron, there’s nothing wrong with superheroes growing up for a change. But fortunately, Gunn is too shrewd of a storyteller to lean on these tropes for fluff. The strength of this final outing lies in its narrative – as the Guardians race against time to save their friend, we get a glimpse into Rocket’s harrowing past. Cut in between moments of the present, we are given flashbacks to the inception of Rocket as a being (the result of a horrific Frankenstein-like experiment) and we are introduced to one of the most heartbreaking origin stories of a superhero thus far. Director Gunn has a talented knack for turning the grotesque and the macabre into a springboard for storytelling that is both strangely heartwarming and, in a emotionally crushing blow, devastatingly heartbreaking. The reveal of Rocket’s origin is indeed so daring and disturbing, you almost forget you’re watching a Marvel film but then again, you remember you’re watching a James Gunn Marvel film. There’s always been a difference.
The second part of the narrative gives way to what may be the best villain Marvel has presented to us post-Thanos. The creation-obsessed foe The High Evolutionary is not the best villain post-Thanos just because of what he does but because of the arrogance with which he carries out his evil deeds. Chukwudi Iwuji’s performance is one for the books as he totally delivers on being one of the most hated villains in Marvel history. I mean you really want this guy to die by the halfway mark. Thanos is a villain you loved to hate but this guy…saying too much else would be giving away the film but the fact that a character like this can draw so much hatred emotion from the audience is a testament to Iwuji’s performance and Gunn’s writing. Other great supporting roles include Will Poulter as Adam Warlock, an emotionally confused, powerful artificial being sent to execute the Guardians; Maria Bakalova, giving a hilarious voice performance as the adorable dog Cosmo; and Pom Klementieff as the lovable too-emphatic-and-aware Mantis.
While it may not be the best superhero film ever, “Vol 3” is a perfect culmination of what made Gunn’s contribution to Marvel so great. This film has tons of heart, humor (some toilet-adjacent), some darkness and terrific action sequences backed by some kickass music. It’s the perfect reflection of the eclectic style Gunn has brought to the MCU. As some chapters close and new ones open, one would be very hard-pressed to not tip their hat to the horror weirdo-turned-superhero wunderkind for doing the impossible and, as he did with the first “Guardians”, breathing new life into a genre plagued by great highs and depressing lows. “Vol 3” may not entirely move the needle forward for superhero films but it keeps the groove grooving and as a moviegoer, that should be enough.
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