‘Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3’ Review

It is possible James Gunn never got over being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

A mix of social media users acting in bad faith and the reaction of former Walt Disney Studio Chairman Alan Horn in the summer of 2018, Gunn was dismissed from completing his Guardians trilogy and soon secured a place with the crosstown rival to make The Suicide Squad — a move that eventually saw him taking over all of DC’s film and TV initiatives.  And like Jack Kirby breaking away from Marvel Comics in the 1970s only to eventually return, there is something decidedly different about Vol. 3 that, to this reviewer, seems inexorably tied to the period when Gunn left the project and his upcoming commitments.

Light spoilers follow…

For one thing, the opening musical number is a stark contrast to Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) solo strut to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” in the first film, the bombast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s credit sequence battle — soundtracked to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” or The Old 97’s performance of “I Don’t Know What Christmas Is (But Christmastime Is Here)” in The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. Instead of these showstoppers, the credits feature a dour acoustic performance of Radiohead’s “Creep” as Peter continues to drown his sorrows in drink and the others react to his malaise. The last lyric of “Creep” is telling: “I don’t belong here.”

Set sometime after Avengers: Endgame and Thor: Love and Thunder — although, curiously, no reference is made to the latter — the Guardians have set up shop on Knowhere, having bought it from the Collector (Bencio Del Toro) sometime earlier, and are helping the locals build a better community than the mining colony glimpsed in the original film. But that sense of a new frontier is mired by Peter’s inability to let the Gamora (Zoe Saldana) he knew go. The others all comment on it and it seems even as the team has more unity and, of all things, a brand identity, Peter’s grief is the stumbling block in moving things forward.

All of this is seemingly set aside when Adam Warlock (Will Poutler), the hatchling from the Sovereign egg teased in Vol. 2, arrives to kidnap Rocket (Bradley Cooper). The incident leads to a series of vignettes in which the other Guardians seek aid for Rocket, he recalls the circumstances of his creation at the hands of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), and Peter once again confronts the Gamora who survived Endgame but did not experience the events of the earlier Guardians pictures.

The adventure is visually stunning with some of the most accomplished scenes Marvel Studios or Gunn have put on the screen, but as a third outing with this group of characters and filmmaker, some of the joy is missing. Jokes repeat too often — or not often enough to achieve a Simpsons-style “rake effect.” Emotional moments fail to land as successfully as they did in the previous films. Even the two-person act of Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) go from lovably obnoxious to just obnoxious in several scenes. Also, much like Shazam: Fury of the Gods‘s Zachary Levi problem, Pratt playing an immature doofus at age 43 is far less charming than it was 9 years ago. And, we have to admit, Rocket’s memories of his time with the High Evolutionary smack of both being a little too emotionally manipulative and too scary for younger fans of the Guardians.

That said, the High Evolutionary, as played by Iwuji, is a top tier Marvel Studios antagonist. While his ultimate goal is ludicrous, it is never far from his thoughts and his drive to achieve it is truly menacing. A superb performance of an especially well-realized character. Additionally, Poutler’s take on Adam Warlock is funny even if it may leave fans of the character’s appearance in Jim Starlin-penned comic book epics a little cold. Also, Karen Gillan continues to delight as Neblua; still irascible, but also clearly a more mature person thanks to everything she’s experienced since trying to get the Power Stone. The rage has subsided and it makes her choices as the film’s final minutes come all the more fascinating.

Also fascinating is Saldana’s presumably final appearance as Gamora. While inhabiting a more morally gray space than her predecessor, she also seems more self-actualized the original film’s take on the character. In fact, it is something of a shame that the actor is tired of being painted green because this Gamora has the ability to lead her own feature. But if it is her final bow, she leaves the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a high note.

The same is true of the film overall. There is a lot to like about it even if a portion of the joy is missing. Everyone is still dedicated and there’s no hint of senioritis in the proceedings. But the melancholy of a storyteller taking one last trip in the cosmos with his characters and the circumstances surrounding the production suffuse it with a sadness that does not appear to be intentional. Gunn’s (absolutely valid) need to detatch from the Guardians of the Galaxy — both when he was temporarily fired and as his future called him to the DCU — means Vol. 3 is a less emotionally engaging film than its predecessors. Nevertheless, it is still a fun adventure worth taking. And for some, Rocket’s story may be something they really, really need.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now in theaters.

It is possible James Gunn never got over being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. A mix ofCOMICONRead More

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