Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Review – James Gunn Gives a Heroes Send Off to the Guardians While Pleasing the Case for All Creatures Great and Small

This review contains mild spoilers.

It’s been a long and winding road to come to the end of the story of James Gunn’s rag-tag group of miscreants turned heroes. Audiences will no doubt not need a recap if they’ve reached Vol. 3 but they will need to know that Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is living on the space port Knowhere with a band of outsiders and none of them are doing particularly well. Nebula (Karen Gillan) is struggling to build Knowhere with Groot (Vin Diesel) into a home for rejects and trying to embrace something akin to a personality not defined by jealousy and trauma. Peter is drinking away the days mourning the Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) who died and the alt-Gamora who has no memories of their relationship. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementief) are trying to keep morale up and failing. Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is trying to take on Yondu’s mantle with limited results and bickering with Cosmo (Maria Bakalova) a psionic dog from early Soviet rocket experiments. And then there is Rocket himself, sitting alone and listening to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ on Peter’s Zune.

There is a sense of deep weariness in the opening of the film that is matched by the ultimate mopey tune by Radiohead. The Guardians have always been a bunch of mismatched personalities that somehow managed to become a family, but with the loss of Gamora the family isn’t what it used to be, and Peter has taken his eye off the ball in caring for his team.

Like a bolt of golden lightning the super-powered Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) attacks Knowhere to retrieve Rocket. The resulting fight sees the Guardians manage to chase him off but leaves Rocket on the brink of death. Suddenly awake, Quill realises he has to do everything he can to save the wise cracking thief who has been a core member of the Guardians and who has saved their butts more than once.

From here the narrative splits into two timelines. The mission to retrieve a key that can override coding in Rocket that is stopping him from being resuscitated, and Rocket’s origin story which is so dark it makes Nebula feel that Thanos was comparatively gentle with her. The only way the Guardians can get into the Orgosphere where the key is housed is with the assistance of Gamora Mark II, who is currently flying with Stakar Ogord’s (Sylvester Stallone) Ravagers.

Another director might have decided that Vol. 3 would be the perfect time to reignite the Gamora/Quill romance, but Gunn isn’t that guy. At the head of the film is friendship and to that purpose he backgrounds Quill and his cocky quips (mostly) and foregrounds Rocket and allows each Guardian (new and old) to have their own hero moment.

Rocket, before he was an ass-kicking, gun toting, strategist, was an innocent creature randomly picked out of a cage by the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) a despicable eugenicist and vivisectionist bent on creating a perfect society for Counter-Earth. The High Evolutionary has created more than one species, including the Sovereigns who he threatens to destroy if they don’t aid in getting Rocket back to him. The High Evolutionary’s purpose is to replace any deity and usurp evolution. Gunn has created a villain that is so without any redeeming qualities and is so uniquely cruel that the movie moves into dark territory that no other MCU product has managed to do thus far. Thanos might have been a universe destroying megalomaniac, but he truly believed he was creating a perfect balance and was capable of love and perhaps even grief. The High Evolutionary is distilled evil who creates and destroys to suit his agenda – to be a new God.

While Gunn mines some excellent comedy from the current timeline Guardians, in fact some of the best comedy from the series thus far, he balances that comedy with deep pathos and emotion. There are great jokes from characters like Nathan Fillion’s Orgosentry, some excellent visual gags (the High Evolutionary standing on a platform to threaten Elizabeth Debicki’s High Priestess Ayesha) or Quill learning to drive a car. Gunn’s Troma background comes into full force with the design of the far too fleshy Orgosphere. However, as much as these flourishes are part of the pure enjoyment of the movie (and of course the soundtrack which has finally reached the 2000s), everything rests with how the Guardians come to redefine themselves and learn how to once again work as a (dysfunctional) unit.

Every character gets their hero moment. Drax and Mantis who have mostly been used as comic relief each find their purpose. Winding back to the reason Drax became Drax the Destroyer – losing his family to Thanos – we find that the big guy just needs to be a parent again. Mantis realises that she has never known independence and as much as she loves her half-brother, Peter, there is a world out there that she has never experienced as an individual. Nebula realises that she is at heart a protector. And Peter understands he has been running too long away from the tragedy of his past. Even Kraglin gets a nod.

While this is a satisfying emotional arc for all the characters the heart of the film is Rocket. What he suffered as an innocent creature who was cybernetically enhanced is bleak beyond description. The comfort he had in finding friends, including Lylla the Otter (Linda Cardellini), is so callously taken from him that we can understand why he became a recalcitrant loner with only the pure-hearted Groot as his companion.

Some people might be upset that Gunn uses Adam Warlock as a comedic man-child with mummy issues and no idea how to function in the world. What Gunn is doing with Warlock is cleverer than that – he’s showing how a moral compass can be formed. Poulter is cast well as the clueless superpowered kid, who by accidentally coming to own a pet, Blurp, begins to realise that empathy is a trait that the so-called perfect Sovereigns lacked.

There are, as ever, many easter eggs and gags that carry through the trilogy, and to be fair there are too many characters. However, when Gunn pays attention to the core story, he’s delivering one of the most heartfelt MCU movies every made. It’s melancholy, it’s frightening (the High Evolutionary is Josef Mengele meets Doctor Moreau and played with skin crawling gusto by Chukwudi Iwuji), it’s also rib-crackingly funny, deeply kind, and forgiving.

Marvel often prioritises spectacle over emotion, and there is indeed a lot of spectacle in the film – from the wonderfully choreographed action scenes to the near-perfect production design – but emotion is the button Gunn has his finger pressed on. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the perfect send off to the heroes no-one asked for, but more than that it’s a film that respects all manner of life, love, and Vin Diesel’s family.

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista

Writer: James Gunn, (based on the comic book by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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