Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Will Poulter, Sean Gunn, Chukwudi Iwuji, Linda Cardellini, Nathan Fillion, Sylvester Stallone 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 150 mins

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the final instalment in the well-regarded series and wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, once again written and directed by James Gunn. Coming six years after Vol. 2, this third entry has experienced a protracted production, the height of which Gunn being fired from the project in July 2018 after controversial tweets from his past resurfaced. Gunn was later reinstated but not before he was attached to direct The Suicide Squad, which he planned to complete before production continued on this film. Gunn’s venture to DC paid off and he was later hired to co-chair DC’s future slate with producer Peter Safran. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 the close of a trilogy, it is also Gunn’s Marvel swansong. 

This threequel picks up after Avengers: Endgame and Thor: Love and Thunder, where we briefly saw the Guardians team up with the Norse god. The Guardians’ peace at their headquarters is quickly disturbed by the arrival of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), sent by Vol. 2’s big-bad Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) is left seriously wounded by the attack. The Guardians are unable to help Rocket as he has a kill switch embedded in his body and need to travel to Orgocop, a company led by the maniacal High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to find the override code. Intercut into the mission is a recounting of Rocket’s disturbing past. 

Guardians of the Galaxy was a refreshing antidote to the Marvel formula when it released, with Gunn crafting a compelling story of the C-list comic-book heroes with plenty of heart and humour.  Although there was also fun to be had in Vol. 2, it was a rather messy and unbalanced film with a problematic third-act that descended into a meaningless CGI-fest. The Suicide Squad, on the other hand,was mostly terrific and really showcased Gunn’s talent for adult comic-book fare, unconstrained by the 12A / PG-13 rating. Now that Gunn’s been brought down a peg and the film needs to cater for a younger audience, can Vol. 3 successfully close out the trilogy? 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is quite different in tone from its predecessors but for the most part, it’s an enjoyable trilogy closer. Gunn treats the characters with love and care and it’s impressive how every characters gets a meaningful arc and isn’t short-changed. When you’re juggling close to ten primary characters, that’s no mean feat.  The film is surprisingly dark in places and has Gunn’s fingerprints all over it, even if its violence, language and disturbing depictions are somewhat sanitised. It’s also a very personal watch, its story mirroring Gunn’s Marvel experience and how he is saying goodbye to the conglomerate that propelled his career. That said, I wish Gunn took more narratively risks and applied his ‘everyone is expendable’ mentality from The Suicide Squad here. Like Vol. 2, it’s also baggily constructed and at least half an hour too long. It’s also not as humorous as the first two but this isn’t necessarily a con given it tackles darker subject matter.  

The cast are uniformly excellent and it’s refreshing to see Chris Pratt excel again in a leading role, after a tired performance in Jurassic World Dominion last year. Of the Guardians themselves, both Bradley Cooper and Pom Klementieff are the standouts this time around, both receiving some excellent, poignant lines they deliver with satisfying conviction.  Chukwudi Iwuji is brilliant as the High Evolutionary, a properly nasty villain who he plays with a Shakespearean quality. I hope this is the performance audiences and critics recognise and he receives more high-profile work as a result. The only character I didn’t really connect with was Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock. Although the character receives an arc, the attempts of humouring the character felt forced. 

Visually the film looks rousing and is colourfully shot by returning cinematographer Henry Braham. Fortunately, the film doesn’t suffer from the ropey visual effects which plagued Thor: Love and Thunder and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Although Tyler Bates scored the first two films, he is replaced by John Murphy who scored The Suicide Squad for this trilogy-closer. Murphy’s score has its moments but is underused and there isn’t really a theme to latch onto. That said, the signature jukebox soundtrack curated by Gunn is well-utilised once again, especially an early sequence set to a slowed-down version of Radiohead’s Creep

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a very competent trilogy closer but the first is still the best in the series. What it lacks in humour and its baggy pacing is made up by its heart and interesting portrayal of darker subject matter.  Gunn’s presence will be missed from the Marvel machine but I’m excited to see what we will see from him in DC where his creativity and adult-oriented leanings aren’t sanitised. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)


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