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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

May 5, 2023

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Writer-director James Gunn completes his gonzo space adventure trilogy with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a fitting end to the saga that plays with the same colourful mix of action, humour, and heart that made the first two movies such standouts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And you know what? Save for Spider-Man: No Way Home, this is the most I’ve enjoyed an MCU movie since Avengers: Endgame in 2019. If Vol. 3 is a bit uneven in places and arguably overlong, this slight unwieldiness is also part of its charm, and it’s a film that wears its heart proudly on its sleeve.

Where as Marvel’s previous film, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (also the third in its series), felt like an impersonal corporate product, it’s clear that Gunn actually put his whole heart into this one, and it leads to some of the most poignant moments across the entire franchise. The themes of found family that have always run through the Guardians films once again play a huge role in Vol. 3. The film at its best when being Rocket’s movie, with a great origin story and very satisfying emotional payoffs.

The film opens with the Guardians – Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Groot (Vin Diesel) – still settling into their lives on Knowhere. They are living in a community of outcasts, along with Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the Spacedog (endearingly voiced by Maria Bakalova).

Peter has started drinking after the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), while Rocket is in an introspective mood. When Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) jets onto their planet in search of Rocket, having been sent to bring the racoon back to his creator, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) – a mad scientist trying to build a perfect society populated by a “master race” – Rocket is badly injured. The film becomes a rescue mission to save Rocket; with the racoon in a coma, the Guardians need to find answers about his past in order to heal him.

Right from his entrance in the film mumbling along to an acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” this is Rocket’s movie. Through flashbacks, we see his early life as a genetic experiment raised in a lab, whose existence was solely for research purposes, and the bonds that young Rocket formed with the other genetically-altered creatures in his cage. It’s all very dark, heart-wrenching stuff, with Gunn playing it completely seriously, and the film coming down hard against animal testing.

One of the most impressive things about this series has been watching Gunn take a profane, jaded talking raccoon with a machine gun and chip on his shoulder, and turn him into such a compelling and sympathetic character. In Vol. 3, Rocket’s story provides one of the biggest emotional pulls in the entire MCU, and it’s done in a way that genuinely tugs at the heartstrings. Cooper also continues to give an incredible vocal performance that breathes a lot of life and feeling into this character.

What works about Guardians Vol. 3 is that the film very much feels like it is telling its own story and completing this trilogy, instead of just setting up future instalments of the machine-like franchise (even the otherwise solid Black Panther: Wakanda Forever got bogged down by a subplot that felt like it only existed to tie back into a streaming series). This film works on its own terms as a sort of rescue mission escape movie, with a heart and soul that has been missing from some of these films as of late.

Despite being the longest of the Guardians films at 150 minutes, this is still a film that mostly flies by with its mix of action, comedy, and character beats. The cast continues to have good interplay together, including the amusing bantering between Drax and Mantis. These movies have also always been known for their Awesome Mix soundtracks of mostly classic rock songs, and music plays a strong role in Vol. 3 as well. This includes a kick-ass Beastie Boys needle-drop that is one of the best in the series, over a single-take action sequence that is one of the coolest things in Gunn’s filmography.

The finale does get a little too busy as more themes and subplots are introduced, and Adam Warlock feels underused. But when the focus is on the bonds between these characters, and that scrappy racoon Rocket, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has a heartfelt emotional pull to it that is welcome for the MCU. If it’s not quite as strong as Vol. 2 (a poignant father-son hangout movie disguised as comic book flick), almost everything about it feels refreshing after Marvel fatigue was starting to set in. This is the big entertaining and emotional sendoff that these characters deserve.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 opens exclusively in theatres on May 5th.

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