Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3 Review - One Last Emotional Ride

  • First Released May 5, 2023
  • movie
Phil Owen on Google+

The film is immaculately constructed by writer/director James Gunn, but the story is missing something.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 from writer/director James Gunn, is very well-crafted, hilarious, and, yes, touching. I even teared up a couple times. But once the post-credits scene came to an end and the lights in the theater came up, I was already over it.

Out of context, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a great movie that hits all the right notes and features all sorts of imaginative, stunning, and very colorful environments. Someday I might be able to enjoy it that way. But right now, what I see is the 32nd movie in a franchise that has had more than its fair share of bloodless climactic battles against armies of CGI beasts. There are several of those battles in this movie, including one that's among the best action sequences in Marvel history.

But what if pizza were the only food you could eat? You could have whatever kind of pizza you wanted, but it still had to be pizza. No ice cream. No omelettes. No tacos. Just pizza. That's what the Marvel Cinematic Universe feels like at this point--we've eaten so much pizza over the past 15 years that even a movie as high-quality as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 can become just another pie that we have to choke down.

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The film picks up with the Guardians on Knowhere sometime after the Guardians Holiday Special, with Peter Quill drinking himself into a stupor over Gamora's death and Rocket roaming aimlessly while listening to "Creep" by Radiohead on Quill's Zune. The camera swoops around the station in a gorgeous lengthy single take, checking in on each of the other Guardians as they go about their business. The whole thing is as dour as you might expect from a scene with "Creep" as the needle-drop, and it only gets more so once the action starts moments later.

That action comes courtesy of Adam Warlock, a super-powerful new Sovereign (those gold folks from Guardians 2), who is there to capture Rocket and bring him to the High Evolutionary--the epic Marvel villain who created Rocket. Warlock makes a big mess of the place, nearly killing Drax and starting some kind of self-destruct sequence on Rocket's cyborg upgrades that will take some time to kill him. But Nebula manages to injure Warlock and sends him running.

Rocket's on borrowed time, though, and so the Guardians decide to go after the High Evolutionary directly to find a way to save him. They get help from the new alt-Gamora, of course, who has become a Ravager since she was brought to this universe with alt-Thanos in Avengers: Endgame.

At the heart of the film is Rocket's backstory from his time under the High Evolutionary's "care," which we see play out in flashbacks while he's unconscious in the present. It's the best stuff in the film, no question--it's very emotional and messed up in all the ways it needs to be. And it's one of the rare parts of the Guardians films where it doesn't feel like Gunn's nihilistic outlook is buried a little bit by the PG-13 rating. (If you want to know what something much closer to unfiltered Gunn looks like, try the R-rated The Suicide Squad.)

But outside of these flashbacks, there's just something missing. Once again, we've got a new Marvel movie with no connective tissue to any story except the ones these characters were in previously. Once again, we've got a story with apparently universe-wide ramifications that provides no context.

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And perhaps the most frustrating part of that is the lack of context for the villain, the High Evolutionary. In this movie, he's just an evil mad scientist with no nuance or any deeper levels, but in the comics he only became like this after he himself was subjected to the same torturous fast-evolution process that he was performing on animals.

That kind of complex character backstory--the bad guy who is also a victim but nonetheless has to be put down because there's no other way to handle it--is usually a James Gunn hallmark. But the High Evolutionary here has no backstory at all. Like Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania did with Kang the Conqueror, this movie reduces another weird and conceptually interesting villain into just another raging baddie who spends most of the back half of the movie yelling about stuff.

And that's the rub with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It's an extremely polished and well-made movie that's as colorful and as much of a feast for the eyes as the previous two films, with some mind-blowingly awesome action sequences to boot, but it doesn't add up to anything more than that. After 15 years of this franchise, that's pretty frustrating. But it's so well put together, fortunately, that you should have a good time anyway.

Phil Owen on Google+
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The Good

  • The action is some of the best in the MCU
  • Rocket Raccoon's backstory hits really hard
  • As beautiful and visually inventive as the previous Guardians films

The Bad

  • Doesn't feel like part of a shared universe
  • The villainous High Evolutionary lacks the nuance and care that Marvel usually gives its bad guys
  • It still feels like director James Gunn is too constrained by the PG-13 rating

About the Author

Phil Owen is a freelance writer. Disney provided a screening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 for the purposes of this review.