The final piece of the GUARDIANS trilogy takes a lot of big swings but, unfortunately, doesn’t land every punch. It’s obvious James Gunn loves this world and these characters, and I respect him for going to some really serious and grim places with this film. At the same time, the film is hitting on so many different things that it doesn’t have time to say very much about some huge subject matters, and yet it also still feels too long.
GUARDIANS 3 works by taking a lot of focus off Peter Quill/Star-Lord and instead tells us Rocket’s story. Bradley Cooper’s character is absolutely the star this time around, and the film is a strong advocate of animal rights. In telling Rocket’s backstory, the film leans into visual effects to bring other animals from Rocket’s past to life, and these are many of the strongest scenes. Knowing what we do about Rocket and his abilities, it’s unsurprising that his past is filled with trauma and heartbreak. It’s a big tonal shift from a lot of what we’ve seen from the Guardians in the past, but it’s an integral piece of Rocket’s character arc throughout the MCU.
Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora’s story is really just restarting again after the events of INFINITY WAR and ENDGAME. Peter is still reeling from the death of his true love and trying to come to grips with the fact that the living Gamora isn’t quite the one he had a relationship with. Their tale in VOL. 3 takes some unexpected turns, and I’m really happy that Gunn continues to give Gamora independence, agency, and her own arc completely separate from Peter’s. Peter needs some time for himself as well. He’s never really dealt with the fact that he was abducted as a child, that his birth father turned out to be evil, and that the only parental figure he’s really known for 35 years gave his life for him.
Mantis and Drax have had incredible platonic friend chemistry since they first met in VOL. 2. Their adventures in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY HOLIDAY SPECIAL solidified this, and if you’re as much of a fan of them as I am, you’ll be happy to know they get a lot of screen time together. Dave Bautista’s acting career owes a lot to James Gunn, but Bautista brings it 100% to every part he’s in. Drax could have easily been a one-note character, but Bautista gives him so much depth this “destroyer” has become the heart of his team. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) may have joined the Guardians later, but she fits so naturally with the group. One negative for me on the film is that her powers are used more for laughs than actual good. The gag is funny at first, but it gets to the point where Mantis unnecessarily manipulates the emotions of the people she’s supposed to care about, which is never discussed.
I’m sad to report that the biggest negative for our core team in this film goes to Groot. From a badass hero in the first film to a cute and funny kid in later iterations, Groot is currently stuck in a phase that doesn’t fit into either. Where does Groot come from? Is he the only one of his kind? And why does his body suddenly look so awkward? If the visual effects budget was shifted to Rocket’s story, it certainly was taken away from Groot. I appreciate practical effects, but with a budget of this size, he shouldn’t look like a cosplayer that wouldn’t even be worthy of a Disneyland appearance.
Aside from Rocket, Nebula, played to absolute perfection by Karen Gillen, has had the fullest development from villain to hero since she was first introduced as Thanos’ daughter/lackey. One of the most interesting things about the Guardians as a group is that they’re all natural leaders. Rocket has made a lot of jokes throughout the series about usurping Quill as Captain, but if there’s anyone I could imagine taking charge at any moment, it’s Nebula. She’s had some major robotic upgrades since we last saw her, but her humanity shows the most in VOL. 3. She’s finally found the family she always wanted, and she revels in driving them crazy.
As I mentioned above, there are a lot of punches pulled in this film – honestly, too many to fit into a 2.5-hour movie that already feels 20 minutes too long. The story dives into the evils of genocide and how war, power, and technology can contribute to it. It’s something we’ve seen before in the MCU with Thanos, but that time the Avengers were able to fix it. Here, just as the film starts down that path in one of the darkest scenes ever to be put into this cinematic universe, it quickly moves on. None of the characters or the audience have a moment to really feel the weight of what’s happened.
As most sequels do, new characters are introduced that will most likely get a larger role in stories to come. This time around that falls to Adam Warlock, portrayed by Will Poulter. Poulter was great, and while I like the character so far, it was just another plot point that the film didn’t need, and therefore his role isn’t serviced by the script as much as it could have been. On the flip side of this, new to the MCU villain, The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) served as a perfect foe for our team, especially Rocket. As the larger universe starts to come together around Kang as the big bad, the Guardians trilogy is better because it was able to stay completely outside of that.
In his quest to say goodbye to several characters we’ve all come to adore, Gunn gives each & every one of them a “final bow” scene. ENDGAME did this to an extent as well, but there each of our team was working together to defeat Thanos. Here, there are so many things going on with so many different characters and groups; these moments feel more self-serving than anything. If you’ve seen THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, you probably recall that Peter Jackson gives THE RETURN OF THE KING several mini-endings before wrapping up the film entirely. There’s a bit of that here going on here, but instead of it feeling like an epilogue, it starts a little over halfway through and continues through the end credits.
I know some of the actors have stated they think this is the last time we’ll see them on the big screen in these roles, but knowing the MCU and how it likes to bring everyone together, I can’t imagine they’d leave our heroes out of fighting Kang when that time comes, right? VOL 3 was a fun goodbye, but I still expect to see a few folks pop up again.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 3 is currently exclusively in theatres.