I think it’s fair to say that Marvel kind of needs a hit now. While they were riding high from Phase One to Phase Three, their fortunes started turning afterwards. Sure, Marvel was still getting some accolades from films like Spider-Man: No Way Home and TV shows like Loki. But most of their other outings were just “fine,” which was unheard of from a Marvel Cinematic Universe property before.
Maybe this is why I was pretty excited for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The previous two films and the Holiday Special did confirm that Marvel and , more specifically, James Gunn still had some magic left. Now that I’ve seen the film, I will say my excitement was definitely well deserved.
As the movie hasn’t been out in all territories as of this publishing, this will, of course, be a SPOILER FREE review. I’m glad the trailer didn’t really reveal any important story beats so I will be honoring that by also not revealing anything. So, yeah. SPOILER FREE review incoming!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 takes place some time after the events of the Holiday Special. The Guardians’ home base, Knowhere, is attacked by an unknown enemy and, in the process, Rocket is severely injured. Unable to save their friend through conventional means, the Guardians have to delve into Rocket’s past and find a way to help their friend. This will lead them to take on a being known as the High Evolutionary, who appears to have plans for their furry friend. As this is a SPOILER FREE review, that’s all I’m going to say.
Let me start out by saying that, among all of the previous Guardians of the Galaxy films, Vol. 3 might be my least favorite. That doesn’t mean it’s terrible; the film is actually really, really good. I just think it’s important to temper expectations here. However, I will say, if this is indeed James Gunn closing out the trilogy as he’s now the head of DC, Marvel’s competitor, he does a very good job of wrapping things up. This does inadvertently cause the overall film to get overstuffed as it has to juggle different sub-plots. I mean, the movie is already 150-minutes long and, even then, it feels like they couldn’t devote enough time to all the story threads.
Then again, I really wouldn’t have it any other way as, overall, this is more the story about Rocket and how he became to be. You do get to see his origins on how he became the hard-nosed, talking raccoon we all know and love. You do get to see his painful upbringing of how it all happened. I’m man enough to say I teared up quite a bit during those scenes, even though, in retrospect, they do go a little too ham-fisted with the message.
A lot of why Rocket’s story works is, not only because of James Gunn’s really good directing and writing, but also because of Bradley Cooper’s voice work as Rocket. While his performance voicing the anthropomorphic woodland creature has always been good, Bradley Cooper seems to have taken it a notch higher for Vol. 3. That’s not to say the rest of the actors are phoning it in as they all pull in really good performances.
Everyone does get their chance to shine because all of the Guardians have shown some growth since their first appearance. Chris Pratt is still roguishly charming as Peter Quill but has a better understanding of what it means to be a part of as well as the leader of a team. Drax is still a big doofus but has developed a deeper connection to the team thanks to Mantis. Mantis still has a little inferior complex but is shown to be standing up for herself and Drax. The character with the most character development is definitely Nebula. She now has reined in her more homicidal tendencies and used all of that energy into making sure to protect the Guardians and the citizens of Knowhere whenever she can.
I will say I’m kind of disappointed with Gamora and Groot because they don’t really have any real character growth. With Gamora, it’s certainly understandable as this isn’t the same Gamora from the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. And it’s not like they didn’t try to make her an interesting character here. It still felt like a step backwards, though. With Groot, well, it feels like the same Groot from the first movie as well but with an important difference: he doesn’t seem to have the same close connection with Rocket like before. It’s kind of weird and he really doesn’t get to do much here.
I’m also conflicted with the main villain in Vol. 3, the High Evolutionary. He’s not necessarily an awful villain but he definitely feels rather one-dimensional. You do get what his motivation is but you never really understand why. At least with Ronan the Accuser, one of the blandest villains even to come out from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they explained why he’s like that. The High Evolutionary, on the other hand, just seems to be seeking evolutionary perfection for some reason. He does come of as terrifying because of what he does to his “experiments” and how cruel he is. But because he lacks a reason for what he’s doing, he’s just not that interesting.
Like I said, it feels like James Gunn tried to add a ton of subplots to Vol. 3 and it does make the pacing feel wonky. Adam Warlock makes his first real appearance here after being hinted at during the after credits scene of Vol. 2. He does feel shoehorned in and the entire film could’ve been rewritten without his presence without any issues. They also tried to tackle things like Star Lord still pining for Gamora but that doesn’t impact the story as well. There’s also Kraglin having a tiff with Cosmo the Spacedog, which does, at least, give the duo something to do. It’s not like I didn’t appreciate these subplots as it does flesh out the characters more. They’re totally unnecessary but it does add some flavor to the proceedings. And who doesn’t love flavor?
The special effects are mostly good. There are a few moments when the animals do fall in the uncanny valley but, then again, aren’t they supposed to look a little weird because of what the High Evolutionary did to them? The space scenes and the action scenes do get to shine quite nicely here. Unfortunately, there are some times when the CGI doesn’t feel all that real. This is especially true for most of the scenes with Groot as he looks like a person in a suit, meaning he is just not detailed at all! If Groot was more practical the CGI, then kudos to James Gunn for going a little more traditional. The downside is that, anytime Groot has to do look a little more fantastical, it just looks more fake.
This is also the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie wherein the humor is more of a detriment than a boon. It’s not like the jokes are bad as they did get a chuckle or two out of me, which is a testament to Chris Pratt and the rest of the cast. It also follows the tried and true pattern of Star Lord, Gamora, Nebula, Drax and Mantis getting on each other’s nerves and the various gaffes the make. The problem is that the jokes are shoehorned in. It almost feels like a Family Guy non-sequitur with how artificial they come off. It’s like James Gunn realized, “Oh, we need to add a joke here” so he wrote the scene in.
Despite these issues and even though it’s not as good as the previous films in the series, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 comes off like the Marvel Cinematic Movies of old. It’s a crowd pleaser with a lot of good action and very likable characters with a ton of heart and personality. This looks like this is going to be James Gunn’s last stint in Marvel and I’m very glad he’s ending it on a high note. I say go watch it when you get the chance.
Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!