Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Review by Hannah Strong @thethirdhan

Directed by

James Gunn


Bradley Cooper Chris Pratt Dave Bautista Karen Gillan


The Marvel churn continues.


Bloated but not without moments of charm.

In Retrospect.

A fitting finale for Marvel's most affable heroes.

James Gunn bids the MCU an emotional farewell in the final outing for his rabble-rousing gang of space pirates.

It’s six years since the Guardians of the Galaxy had their last formal outing (there was a 40-minute holiday special that aired on Disney+ in November 2022, but to paraphrase a popular meme, I ain’t watching all that) and quite a lot has changed since then. The gang teamed up with the Avengers to save the world. James Gunn was fired by Disney, hired by DC, rehired by Disney, and eventually announced as co-CEO of rival DC Studios, tasked with shaking up their floundering film division.

Before getting around to directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, Gunn revamped The Suicide Squad, helmed a spin-off John Cena television series, and definitely Did Not Fire Superman. He’s been busy, in short, and given how underwhelming Marvel’s most recent efforts have proven to be, even the studio seem to have their doubts.

But the Guardians have always been a group of cosmic underdogs, a found family forged from misfits and miscreants, led by Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill (Chris Pratt, hoping for a second cinema smash after his hefty Super Mario payday) and comprised of Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). They’re joined now by their previous foe Nebula (Karen Gillian) and new members Kraglin Obfonteri (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the Space Dog (Maria Bakalova), and while they’ve set up shop on the floating head known as Knowhere, Quill is still pining after his dead girlfriend Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) who sacrificed herself during the events of Avengers: End Game. Her alternate-timeline counterpart is still alive and well, but has no interest in the Guardians, which further strains Peter’s relationship with his crew.

Yet when another old foe resurfaces, in the form of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki reprising her role from Vol 2) and her ‘son’ Adam (Will Poutler) the gang are forced to confront the harrowing past of Rocket Raccoon, their wisecracking weapons expert who never talks about how he became a sentient, cybernetic critter. The trail leads back to the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a megalomaniacal inventor who seeks to create a utopia, and holds the key to Rocket’s past, where he was a failed experiment in a laboratory alongside an otter named Lylla (Linda  Cardellini) a walrus named Teefs (Asim Chaudhry) and a rabbit named Floor (Mikaela Hoover).

The flashbacks to a baby Rocket becoming self-aware are all very Secret of NIMH, but the film does manage to make its emotional beats count, as it is revealed Quill and Rocket have in common a bone-deep loneliness that comes as a result of repeatedly losing those closest to them. For all his puerile instincts, Gunn is able to create stakes in this film that feel real and meaningful – perhaps because of the care that has gone into fleshing out this group of characters over the course of three films (and all their supplementary appearances).

In fact, this entry is also the first time in a while that a Marvel film hasn’t felt like a cog in a bigger machine that only exists to set up future events. Its plotline is contained for the most part (except for the second post-credits scene) and if it feels like a goodbye, that’s because it is, at least for some of the cast. While Gunn departs to head up DC’s Superman reboot, Bautista and Saldaña have also revealed they’re putting down the grey and green body paint respectively to pursue other roles. What’s refreshing here is that Gunn doesn’t opt to go for the easy route, tugging on our heartstrings via big emotional death scenes for the departing squad members. Instead the characters learn that they’re still a family, even when they need to spend some time apart and figure out who they are as individual people.

The pop music used in Vol 3 – while more modern than the 70s hits which dominated the first two films – all stems from the Zune music player which Quill was gifted at the end of the previous film. As the Zune was discontinued in 2012, all the songs which we hear are from before then, from the acoustic version of Radiohead’s Creep which opens the film to Florence and the Machine’s Dog Days Are Over, which closes it. This is a relatively minor point, but speaks to a creative cohesion which has been somewhat lacking in Marvel films, increasingly grey and sludgy in visuals and dominated by dialogue which feels like it was written by committee. Vol 3 is refreshing in this regard, the clear product of a filmmaker with a distinct vision (whether you like it or not is a different matter).

Less positive: the film’s 2.5-hour runtime is decidedly noticeable, and the High Evolutionary is barely distinguishable from any of the other Big Bads we’ve seen before. Chukwudi Iwuji is a fine actor, but there isn’t much that separates his character from Jonathan Majors in Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania, or Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser. Conversely, Will Poulter is a standout as Adam, the born-yesterday not-so-baddie who is just finding his feet as a celestial being. He’s utterly charming as the naive, pompous Warlock, and it’s a pity we don’t see more of him (though bless him for painting himself gold for such limited screentime). The convoluted storyline would have been better served by reducing the headcount, but presumably, Poulter will be back somewhere down the line.

Gunn is now poised to bring his quippy, retro-futuristic sensibilities to DC, and it could be the shot in the arm their limping cinematic studio deserves, a much-needed dose of comic relief for a studio that veers disastrously grimdark. As for Marvel, it’s farewell to the studio’s most winsome collective (at least with their current line-up) but is Vol 3 a pleasant step in the right direction after a few misfires or a worrying omen that the studio’s glory days are firmly in the rearview?

Published 28 Apr 2023

Tags: Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn Marvel


The Marvel churn continues.


Bloated but not without moments of charm.

In Retrospect.

A fitting finale for Marvel's most affable heroes.

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