As we end this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy, I had to take a step back and marvel (heh) about how all these characters have been constructed for me to care so much about them. Until this point, we’ve been through two films, some cameos, animated and Christmas specials – the joy and empathy I had for this group seemed never to waver. This is despite the bonehead decisions Starlord made during Avengers: Infinity War. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 comes when the MCU needs a particular essence of distinctness. There’s a fine line between being at the service of foreshadowing the following story and still making a definitive creative statement about it.
This is something writer/director James Gunn gives considerably within the trilogy’s finale. He has much of his mind and cares about this world he’s built. Much of the trademark humor is here, along with a cavalcade of popular music loaded on a Microsoft Zune spanning decades. Some challenging emotional moments reside within Vol. 3, as well as the innocent aloofness, teamwork, and action. If it sounds like a lot is packed within the two-hour, thirty-plus minute runtime, it is. Sometimes, all the personalities and ways the story wants to go are battling for position. Despite this, the main themes work, and the film always returns to its enjoyable center point.
When we see the Guardians, they are setting up shop at Knowhere. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has progressed into a pronounced sadness over Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) – or a version of her that remembers nothing about what the other version of herself shared with Quill. As for everybody else, it’s par for the course as the film enters with an acoustic version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ as an introduction back into this world. Unfortunately, the quiet times come to an abrupt halt as foes from the past come back to haunt the Guardians. Beginning with the newly born and high-powered Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) and leader of the Sovereign/Adam’s mother, Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). This all circles around the north star of Vol. 3, and that is Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his past.
Our favorite scrappy, wise-cracking procyonid wasn’t always that way. Rather he was a baby Raccoon that was experimented on by a scientist named The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). He is obsessed with doing obscene and downright unethical experiments on animals to attempt to make the “perfect species” and the “perfect society.” He’s even remade a version of Earth within his image. However, The High Evolutionary is devoid of compassion in pursuing this seemingly unattainable goal – but is blind because of his hubris. Unfortunately, Rocket finds himself on the receiving end of much of the anger for a specific reason.
This is not to say that Vol. 3 isn’t a fun film. Drax (Dave Bautista) or Mantis (Pom Klementieff) will interject a comment to break up the tension in serious moments. It’s a mainstay throughout the Guardians of the Galaxy series – which stops behind the line of trying to lighten things up too much. Despite this, their characters get their moments to break out of their shells and exhibit a range more than just comic relief. It’s a feat that Gunn strives to do with almost every central character within the film – as if to give them a notable chance to say goodbye.
This works with some more than others – in particular, Adam Warlock’s character deals with being in adolescence despite holding this great power. There are a couple of funny moments with his character, but he feels like he’s on the outside looking in when it comes to development. On the other side, there is Nebula (Karen Gillan), who learns to maybe not be so hard on everyone. It all circles back to Rocket; his story is the most compelling regarding Vol. 3. With flashbacks, you get to see Rocket at his beginning stages with other augmented animals, such as a seal named Lylla (voiced by returning champion Linda Cardellini), Teefs the Walrus (voiced by Asim Chaudhry) and Floor the Rabbit (voiced by Mikaela Hoover)—the moments we spend with these four characters set up the film's peaks.
Iwuji fully commits to being this maniacal person haunted by his own flaws that you root for the heroes even more. Vol. 3 dives into the questions of destiny, imperfections, and who gets to deem worthiness because being the smartness means nothing if you don’t have empathy. That makes the Guardians as a team so enduring – even if they quarrel or face certain dangers, they are an assembly of “misfits” coming together to do incredible things. What is family, and how do we deal with the fact that we may not be here forever? Those are two specific heavy things that Gunn illustrates in a way that’s easy to digest.
For the look, Vol. 3 gets a lot right from the various worlds and galaxies visited. It feels that much more care was involved this time. The action and firefights are as present as ever (including an impressive one-shot sequence where the group fights many enemies together).
If there is anything Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 reminds fans of, Marvel can still produce a film with a definite zest and individuality. Much of that resides in Gunn’s filmmaking and will sorely be missed as he heads off to DC. Who would have thought this assembly of characters would unite to make a trilogy that made us feel so damn much?