Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
MOVIE | An emotionally satisfying send-off for the heroic misfits
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➤ Rated PG-13
➤ S1 / V7 / L5*
A decade ago, director James Gunn took obscure comic book characters and turned them into a box-office phenomenon when Guardians of the Galaxy launched one of the most popular franchises within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gunn recently moved to the top creative spot at Marvel’s rival DC Studios, but with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, his last movie for Marvel, he gives this heroic group of misfits an emotionally satisfying send-off.
The gang’s back for the trilogy’s finale. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) pines after an alternate-timeline version of his dead girlfriend Gamora (Zoe Saldana) whose sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) tries to hold things together with Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and an adolescent Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). All the characters get their moments—even the former Ravager Kraglin (Sean Gunn)—but this movie is really about everyone’s favorite anthropomorphized raccoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper).
In the first Guardians movie, the team saved a planet, and then in the second they saved the universe. This time the stakes are lower, but more personal, as the Guardians fight to save one of their own. Their enemy is the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who tinkers with living beings in a misguided quest to create perfected life-forms.
The earlier films were silly romps full of swagger and quippy jokes, but Vol. 3 evokes a sense of melancholy. The movie features plenty of wisecracking, but finality looms over this latest adventure. Gunn signals the somber direction in the opening scene and carries it through to the end credits. It’s not necessarily a darker movie, just sadder, and some fans won’t be prepared for the goofy franchise turning into a bit of a tear-jerker.
Speaking of preparation, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe sprawling across 30 movies and eight TV series, moviegoers increasingly need to know how much background is necessary to enjoy the show. Gunn manages to ignore the last four years of MCU stories, so thankfully, no mention of the multiverse here. All that’s needed is to have seen the previous two Guardians movies and be familiar with the events of Avengers: Endgame. Maybe throw in last year’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special. This movie scores points by sticking to its own story rather than setting up future installments of the MCU.
Gunn’s Catholic upbringing haunts this film, and he incorporates plenty of religious visuals, though it’s not always easy to know what he intends by them. Christian themes also show up in the script: We see sacrifice, love, and forgiveness, as well as the value and dignity of life. But in this story of sinful heroes pursuing righteousness, characters sometimes have misaligned desires and fail to see valuable traits in others. The High Evolutionary puts himself beyond redemption because he seeks to usurp the place of God.
The movie has its faults, though. It’s overly long and doesn’t break enough new ground when it comes to the bad guy. The High Evolutionary’s relationship to the team and his villainous motives are too similar to what we already saw in the second film, but honestly, it feels more “right” this time around.
Each of the three films features a bad father figure and explores the consequences of broken families, but we also see the joys of adoptive families and close community. In Vol. 3, the devil-may-care façades of insecure characters continue to crack, and the heroes gain new self-awareness.
Those looking for the fast-paced nostalgia-driven humor of earlier movies might not enjoy this one. Despite plenty of old-school needle drops, Vol. 3 suggests obsession with the past masks our pain and keeps us from thriving. Peter and Rocket are both slaves to the past: Peter wants to recapture an idealized version of it, and Rocket wants to forget it. Neither can become whole until they’ve moved on. But there’s a sadness to moving on, and we’re left with a bittersweet ache as James Gunn says goodbye to these old friends.
* Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul-language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high
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