"Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3" (GOTGV3) is awesome on a number of different levels. It's also my favorite Marvel movie at least since "Avengers: End Game," and perhaps of all-time.
James Gunn - recently recruited to relaunch and reimagine the DC Cinematic Universe - completes the GOTG trilogy of films with an action-packed, personal journey, sending this group of ragtag, imperfect characters off into the sunset.
I laughed. I cried. But most of all I had FUN. I couldn't believe how invested I was with this batch of characters, having followed them throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for 10 years now. I cared. In creating this massive, cosmic, two-and-a-half-hour long epic, James Gunn has somehow told the most personal Marvel story to date, one with consequences and stakes, that didn't just revolve around villains trying to destroy the whole of the universe.
There were a lot of nods to the recent "Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special" that was released on Disney+ last December. But basically, the Guardians find themselves on the massive, floating community known as Knowhere. They're suddenly attacked by a new character, the super-powerful but kind-of-clueless Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), who shows that he can take on the entire squad by himself. The melee leaves Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) near-death...the rest of the film has his found-family of Guardians risking their lives across the Universe in search of a cure for their furry little pal.
Rocket may be out of commission in the present, but this allows Gunn to delve into the mysterious creature's past. No spoilers, other than to say that Rocket is an important escaped asset, and a result of some cruel experimentation done by a new baddie known as The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). In fact, we learn that Adam Warlock was sent to capture Rocket at his behest.
Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is a drunken, lost soul, still mourning the loss of his girlfriend, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), killed at the hands of her father, Thanos. Gamora is still around though - the version from the 2014 timeline that arrived with Thanos - it's just not the Gamora that the Guardians - and Quill - knew and loved. This "new" Gamora can't believe what Quill is telling her, that they were once in love. In other words, Quill longs for his "perfect version" of Gamora, but may have to accept this version for who she is, flaws and all.
This cleverly ties in with The High Evolutionary's motives...an incredible powerful being who is longing to create the perfect planetary habitat. He longs for his "perfect version" and cannot accept anything less.
Along for the ride, of course, is the empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), whose role and screen-time is greatly expanded on compared to previous films. There's Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), still chomping on his Zarg-nuts and making hilarious quips from his narrow, simple perspective. Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is trying to live up to his mentor, the now-deceased Yondu, while trying to get a hang of that deadly guided-arrow. Cosmo the Dog (voiced by Maria Bakalova) is able to move things with her mind, but can't seem to win over the respect of her peers. Nebula (Karen Gillan) is still trying to find her place in the galaxy, and even Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) has some growing to do.
That's admittedly a lot of characters, so it's a heck of an achievement that Gunn is able to give them all moments to shine. At the core, this movie is about Rocket, and we learn a lot about his backstory. But his story in many ways is the story of all of the Guardians. An outsider, scarred and damaged by his past where he survived having his world ripped away from him. Who overcomes all odds and finds a family with other, imperfect souls.
The characters not only all shine, but they change. All of these characters - from Groot to Star-Lord - are not the same characters they were when we met them. All of their paths intertwine, but as life goes, sometimes the paths only cross for a while. Each of the characters progress in ways that feel natural, and ways that feel incredibly rewarding to the audience.
Visually, this is one of the most immersive and creative Marvel films to date. It's mind-blowing what the filmmakers are able to achieve, and yet this movie feels like a character-driven saga. It's grounded. And as tears welled up in my eyes over the final 30 minutes or so, I couldn't believe just how much I treasured each of their individual journeys, not to mention the journey of the group as a whole.
The High Evolutionary is one of the best villains in quite some time, and Chukwudi Iwuji plays the part to perfection. It's a role that could and should have been hammy, but Iwuji chews his scenery with a sense of purpose. Most importantly, he wasn't inserted to set up another set of films...his purpose directly ties into the story of the Guardians, and exists as a cautionary tale of where obsession can lead. In another sense, it represents how it is nearly impossible to "go it alone" in this world. We all need other people to help us get by, and sometimes we have to learn to accept people as they are.
I had thought that the Adam Warlock storyline felt a bit shoe-horned in while watching, but even his storyline ties in and becomes meaningful. He is an outsider even to this group of outsiders...and is perhaps not as far along in his growth as some of the other Guardians.
Refreshingly, there's not even a mention of the "multi-verse" that has overwhelmed every other Marvel project these past several years. This movie was laser-focused on giving us a send-off to this particular group of characters, and it knocked it out of the park. In honing in on the personal struggles of this group of friends, this MCU film felt like it had bigger stakes than the last several combined.
As always, stay through the credits. For me, it took me that extra time just to regain my composure.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel (voice), Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Will Poulter, Nico Santos, Linda Cardellini (voice), Sylvester Stallone, Nathan Fillion.
Written and Directed by James Gunn ("The Suicide Squad" (2021), Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Super").
"Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3" is in theaters on Friday, May 5th, 2023.
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