Not With A Bang, But A Whimper
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 3 | REVIEW
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 3 (2023) is supposed to be an ending of sorts. The ragtag group of Marvel heroes have been hanging around the outskirts of Kevin Feige’s universe for almost a decade. Thanos is defeated, the actors are done, and James Gunn is moving to Metropolis. Plus, three is such a clean number when it comes to movie making. All of which is why Marvel feels so comfortable making it clear in the advertising that VOLUME 3 is the end of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Except here’s the thing… (spoilers) it isn’t. Not even remotely.
If anything it could best be described as an origin story. It’s a splotchy incoherent mess, suffering from the same “hurry up and wait” pacing that plagued VOLUME 2 (2017). But while VOLUME 2 rewarded audience for their patience by wringing every ounce of visual spectacle possible out of the VFX budget, VOLUME 3 knows what audiences really want to see: cute animals getting shot in the head with a real life gun.
When the Guardians of the Galaxy first joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they promised something new. Marvel's movie empire was already six years old, and the formula was starting to lose its charm. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot were literally out of this world, heralding the introduction of Cosmic Marvel as envisioned by creative visionaries like Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby. And to helm the project, James Gunn, a creative visionary in his own right. One of the original selling points of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies was that Gunn would have creative control over the story, as the characters were thought to be far enough outside the "Avengers"-proper canon that he could tell his own story without feeling reined in by the studio's larger plans.
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However, that all seemed to change when Gunn was fired by Disney for old tweets, leading to Marvel stalling on GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 3. Gunn subsequently directed The Suicide Squad for DC, which was itself a course correction for the universally derided SUICIDE SQUD(2016), which had tried and failed to capitalize on the success of the original GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014). By the time THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) hit theaters. Gunn was already back on the Disney payroll, busy at work on Guardians 3. All of which led to a very unusual moment for Gunn’s career, with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 3 being as much of an ending for him as it is a beginning. The duality is felt throughout the movie — and never for the better.
Gunn has always claimed that his Guardians trilogy is about Rocket. And while that’s always been a nice sentiment, it’s never born out on screen. From Tony Stark to Thanos, THE INFINITY SAGA was always about bad dads. And, accordingly, Gunn’s Guardians movies have historically focused on the broken family relationships in the crew. In particular, the first movie explored the dynamic between Gamora and Nebula and their father Thanos. In VOLUME 2, Gunn turned his focus to Peter Quill’s relationship with adopted father Yondu and bio-dad Ego, The Living Planet. Rocket has always had an important roll on the team, and Bradley Cooper has never once turned in a bad performance in the MCU. But calling Rocket the main character of the franchise has always felt a little… generous.
But don’t worry! Gunn’s eager to make up for lost ground in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 3. The narrative splits its time between a full Rocket origin story and the issue at hand: the High Evolutionary’s attempt to destroy a planet and recreate it with his latest model of bio-engineered monster men. The relationship between Star Lord and Gamora is never fully resolved, somehow achieving the unlikely duel role of “most obvious thing the movie should be about” and “most underserved portion of the plot.” The newfound revolution from the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (2022), that Mantis and Star Lord are siblings, is often remarked upon but never actually matters in any material sense. Drax, a character who started the franchise as a mourning father and husband is somehow shocked by the revelation that he could be a loving father. Oh and, by the way, Adam Warlock — the Jesus of the Marvel Universe — is finally here. It’s just a lot.
The film ultimately feels like a slapdash disaster. A servant of too many masters that can’t manage to drive its signal through the noise. Gunn has too much on his mind for the limited amount of runway he has left. And his unease in his role is evident on screen, as the film ultimately feels like it’s stalling out under the audience every 20 minutes. The movie spends its entire 149 minutes switching off between some of the most shocking trauma in the MCU, and characters literally sitting around waiting for each other to wrap it up. It’s as bifurcated a narrative as one can imagine, and it’s an unfortunate ending for what was once the most exciting title in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But fear not, true believers! Because, as the most disjointed part of the movie takes great care to point out: “The Legendary Star Lord Will Return.”
Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is currently screening in theaters nationwide.
jk it was on streaming, 2021 was a nightmare