One of the more hotly anticipated MCU titles, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 marks the final chapter for the franchise, at least with this current cast. It also will probably be the last MCU film to be helmed by James Gunn, with him jumping ship over to DC to head the upcoming DCU.
Some of Gunn’s decisions have already been met with controversy, but personally I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Many online are already complaining and this is before he has even shot one frame of film, seemingly forgetting the qualities he has brought in all his previous movies, with Vol.3 being no different.
Vol.3 is something of a bittersweet film, knowing that it’s the end of an era, but even while there is an air of sadness built into the story, Gunn doesn’t forget the necessary fun and humor that made the last 2 entries, and to a lesser extent the Holiday special, some of the best entries in the MCU.
The Guardians franchise seems the perfect place for Gunn to let loose with his imagination, with Vol.3 being filled with his own quirky style, and while it may be diluted in comparison to something like Slither (2006) and Super (2010), Gunn manages to get away with quite a bit considering the PG-13 rating. As well as being the first MCU film to include the F word, there’s quite a considerable level of violence involved, with one particularly impressive scene involving someone’s face in the last third of the film. Now, don’t expect Rambo (2008) levels of violence, but this isn’t your typical Marvel adventure.
These darker elements coincide with the plot, with the Guardians facing off against one of their most evil opponents yet, well outside of Thanos. That opponent is the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) who sets things off by sending the newly created Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) to attack the Guardians. Quill (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) all bravely face off against the superhuman Warlock. Although they all end up bruised and battered by Warlock, it is Rocket (Bradley Cooper) that comes off the worst, with Warlock unleashing a devastating blow that finds Rocket fighting for his life.
In order to save Rocket’s life, the Guardians must go on a quest that will find them coming face to face with the High Evolutionary while at the same time teaming up with an alternative version of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) which creates some tension amongst the team, especially with Quill who is still pining for the Gamora he lost. During this time we are treated to a series of flashbacks that show the backstory of Rocket and his relationship with the High Evolutionary.
As great a job Gunn has done behind the camera, Vol.3 isn’t perfect. Like most MCU films, or many other films these days, it has a tendency to be overlong. Several scenes could have been trimmed for pacing. In addition to this, there are certain story elements that I felt were included because they were expected rather than how they would assist with the plot.
One such plot element is the inclusion of Adam Warlock. Now, any Marvel fan will recognize how much of an important character he is, but here I felt he was surplus to requirements. It was great finally seeing him in live action, and Will Poulter does a fantastic job of bringing him to life. I just didn’t feel he brought much to the plot other than being the catalyst of what sets the Guardians on their mission.
Someone of Warlock’s importance really shouldn’t be just a minor supporting role, as Poulter’s performance could be considered an extended cameo. Sure, he may appear throughout much of the film, but if you were to add up his entire screen time it wouldn’t add up to very long.
Of course, Marvel has further plans for the character so this was as good a time to introduce him as any. Perhaps if this wasn’t Gunn’s final adventure he would have kept Warlock for later, rather than including him in a secondary role. Still, his inclusion does open up some terrific possibilities moving forward.
Similarly, I felt that Zoe Saldana’s Gamora didn’t bring much to the team, although this was clearly intentional, with her very much being an outsider. Saldana does have fun portraying a different version of Gamora from the one we got to know in previous entries, but like Warlock, I’m not sure the film would have been harmed that much if she didn’t appear. Even so, it’s good to have Saldana back in the role, and she does get to share some poignant scenes with Pratt later in the film, even if their relationship doesn’t go the way fans would like.
Speaking of Pratt, he once again nails his character, bringing the much needed mixture of humor, toughness and vulnerability to Quill/Starlord. He has been very much damaged by the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), but what happens to Rocket is the wake up call he needs with him quickly sobering up and willing to do whatever it takes to save his friend. This is clearly a role dear to Pratt’s heart, with him already commenting that he would be willing to return for further adventures as Starlord, something which the film alludes to.
Dave Bautista once again nearly steals the whole show as Drax, with him not only getting to show off his action hero credentials but like before show his fine grasp of comedy. However, it isn’t all laughs as Bautista brings a lot of heart and emotion to the role. At one minute Bautista can have you screaming with laughter then almost bringing you to tears the next.
I appreciated that Karen Gillan’s Nebula had a more substantial role than ever before, with her character having come a long way since her introduction in Vol.1, going from being a minor villain to a full fledged hero. Even when covered in so many prosthetics Gillan’s performance is able to shine through. I especially liked her verbal face off with Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, which finally results in Nebula being put in her place.
Like Gillan, Pom Klementieff’s performance also shines through under prosthetics, with Mantis being a fully fledged member of the team, proving how imperative she is during the third act.
Much of Vol.3 is focused around Rocket, with much of his back story filled in. Even though Bradley Cooper isn’t on screen, his voice brings a lot of much needed emotion with Rocket feeling as real as any other character on screen. Out of all their adventures, I would say this is the best Cooper has been to date. Some credit should also go to Sean Gunn who not only does the mo-cap for Rocket, but portrays Kraglin who gets his own chance to shine during the action packed finale.
As I have mentioned in previous reviews, the MCU does have a problem when it comes to its villains, although some certainly do stand out. One just has to look at Josh Brolin as Thanos or Jonathan Majors recent turn as Kang in Antman and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) to see how they have improved.
We can now add Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary to the list of quality villains. Unlike other villains who have an air of sympathy around them or we can at least understand their reasoning, the High Evolutionary is an out and out cold blooded villain with a total lack of empathy. Iwuji adds gravitas to the role, giving his villain an almost Shakespearean quality. Gunn fans will no doubt recognize Iwuji from his role in Peacemaker (2022), but his work there is nothing in comparison to what he brings to the table in Vol.3.
In addition to the main cast, Gunn has filled the film with a number of terrific supporting players. Most famously, Sylvester Stallone reprises his role of Stakar, leader of the Ravagers. While he doesn’t get much to do, it’s just great to see the action icon appear.
There’s also Gunn’s longtime friend and collaborator Nathan Fillion, who has a great time as the hilarious Master Karja, constantly putting down his colleague with hurtful jibes. Also look out for the likes of Michael Rosenbaum, Daniella Melchior as well as host of other Gunn regulars.
Similarly to previous volumes, Gunn has selected a great soundtrack to accompany the on screen action. It isn’t as notable as Vol.2 which was filled with one track better than the next, but it’s still a fine collection of songs that other than one track fits the film perfectly.
Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.3 is one of the best Marvel films of late. Sure it has its faults, with it not hitting all the emotional high notes that it was aiming for, but James Gunn has created an exhilarating send off for this iteration of the Guardians and left it in a great position moving forward.
Plot: 4/5 Acting: 4.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 4/5