Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now in theaters.
By Greg Wheeler
To say Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the best product Marvel have put out in the past couple of years is a bit of an understatement. Regardless of how you feel about the brand, the MCU has been in decline since Endgame. Masked as “superhero fatigue,” the downfall has extended all the way to the start of Phase 5, with Ant-Man: Quantumania earlier this year surprising everyone by making a loss for the company at the box office.
Heads have rolled. Marvel Studios’ number two executive is gone and the company is working overtime to try and pick up the scraps and get this train back on track. If Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is an indication of where things are heading, it could well have taken a step toward fixing the rot. Not only is Guardians 3 a good film, it’s also an emotional and gut-wrenching finale to a trilogy that has managed to maintain a consistency in this universe that’s not been seen since Captain America’s excellent films.
Guardians 3 is not perfect though, and it still has some narrative issues that hold it back from being a better film. We’ll get to all that shortly but for now, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may just be the biggest surprise of the year, delivering a competently made and emotionally resonant swansong to this misfit team.
The focus this time around is almost squarely on Rocket the Raccoon. From the opening shot of him walking through an alien landscape while all the Guardians are doing their own thing to the emotional conclusion, there are so many memorable scenes. Most of these center on Rocket Racoon, with Guardians 3 establishing its real strength in bringing his tragic backstory to life. And what a tale it is. This is compounded by Peter Quill’s emotionally unstable state, as he’s still reeling from the loss of his Gamora. I say his Gamora because thanks to the multiverse and wibbly wobbly timey-wimey shenanigans, Gamora is here, but she just doesn’t have any memories of what happened.
Memories play a vital part of this movie though, as Rocket’s past comes back to haunt him. Specifically, that falls to the role of the maniacally theatrical High Evolutionary, who’s desperate to bring back his test subject. He does so through Adam Warlock, who sets off a chain of events that see the Guardians scramble to save one of their own and then, subsequently, the universe.
There are some genuinely emotional moments in this and on several occasions you may find yourself welling up. However, those moments are undercut slightly by the humor, which continues to level James Gunn’s distinct brand of slapstick and goofiness. When the life of one of the Guardians is hanging in the balance, and their mission is literally a case of life and death, seeing the gang goof off and crack jokes just feels ill-fitting and a bit conflicted. It’s not as bad as Love & Thunder’s tonal blunders, but there are a couple of occasions that the humor could have been toned down to really elevate the stakes here.
However, the jokes that do show up are genuinely funny and Drax in particular has a lot of memorable lines. Speaking of memorable, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 makes good use of its large ensemble and actually gives everyone something meaningful to do. Mantis has a great arc, while Drax, Groot, Star-Lord and Gamora similarly have competent storylines that round out in a really satisfying finale that will give serious Return of the Jedi vibes!
The biggest problem with the movie though comes from Adam Warlock. With the High Evolutionary set as the big bad of the film, Warlock is just kinda… here. His purpose is essentially a walking deus ex machina device, either causing issues or saving people to keep the plot ticking along. He doesn’t really have a whole lot to do and his story is by far the weakest part of this entire tale. It’s a tiresome trope in cinema too and it’s disappointing to see such an iconic villain reduced to this forgettable role.
Through all of this though, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 defies expectations and delivers an enjoyable Marvel movie that remembers why it’s here – to entertain. It’s certainly not perfect, and there are parts that could have been edited or changed for a tighter screenplay, but what’s here is definitely worth a watch. While it’s too early to say Marvel is back on track, this is certainly a step in the right direction.
I give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a B+.