REVIEW: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”

James Gunn’s highly promoted exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is here in the form of the much anticipated “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”. This ragtag crew of MCU misfits burst onto the cinematic scene in 2014 and were a big hit. A 2017 sequel was an even bigger box office smash. Now we get Volume 3 which is the 32nd movie in the MCU. Pretty much all the familiar faces return and a couple of new ones make their debuts. But most of the chatter has been about writer-director James Gunn who is off to run the rebooted DC Studios immediately following this film.

I’ve generally liked the previous two “Guardians” movies but admittedly they’re not among my favorites from the Marvel stock. Both leaned heavily on the comedic chemistry of their ensemble cast and on Gunn’s goofy irreverent style. “Guardians 3” leans even harder on both although not with the greatest results. It plays like an obvious wrap party with Gunn throwing everything that came to mind at the screen without a hint of subtlety or restraint. There’s some fun stuff packed in it. But it’s also loud, overstuffed, frustratingly manipulative, and not nearly as funny as its predecessors.

Up to this point we know what to expect from a James Gunn superhero movie – countless needle drops, zany humor, proudly off-beat action, and (when it lands) some unexpected heart. Unfortunately nearly everything in Volume 3 feels obligatory. So much of the dialogue seems right off the page rather than organic and natural. There’s also a surprising amount of rehashed exposition. And then there’s the incessant yelling. Good guys, bad guys, no-names – everyone yells in this thing, often needlessly and constantly. It would be funny if it wasn’t so annoying.

Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios

But the biggest disappointment is in Gunn’s lazy plays on his audience’s emotions. He spoon-feeds us one emotional cue after another, often accompanying them with huge musical swells and syrupy lines too on-the-nose to feel genuine. Worst of all is his cheap over-reliance on animal abuse. To be clear, I’m not with those who have taken aim at the movie for simply depicting animal cruelty. If it’s key to the story a creator shouldn’t shy away from it. But when it’s used solely to yank our heartstrings over and over again then it becomes a problem. Gunn knows it’s an easy target to hit and he constantly goes back to it.

I will give it this, “Guardians 3” tells a more self-contained story which is nice considering the tepid state of the MCU. The whole gang is back: Peter (Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova). Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) is still around (or the variant of her is), having ditched the Guardians and taken up with the Ravagers, a band of space pirates led by Sly Stallone.

While putting the finishing touches on their new headquarters the Guardians are suddenly attacked by a powerful being named Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). They eventually neutralize the threat but not before Rocket is seriously injured. Our heroes rush to his aid but quickly learn they can’t tend to their anthropomorphic friend’s wounds because of a killswitch they discover embedded within him. So Peter and the gang race against the clock to track down an override code before Rocket dies. Action, adventure, and LOTS of yelling ensues.

Woven throughout it all is Rocket’s backstory where we see him and number of other earth animals (why just our planet?) abused, tortured, and even incinerated. In these scenes Rocket befriends three other anthropomorphic captives (voiced by Linda Cardellini, Asim Chaudhry, and Mikaela Hoover). Unfortunately it’s easy to pick up on their purpose which makes these already drawn-out flashbacks hard to sit through.

Image Courtesy of Marvel Studios

One area where the first two films struggled was with their unremarkable villains. Sadly it’s the same in Volume 3. We learn that the woefully uninteresting Warlock has been sent to do the bidding of The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji in a thankless role). He has an intriguing look, some cool yet unexplained powers, and he too yells a lot. But that’s about it. You can sense a compelling character there somewhere. But he’s never explained as anything more than a mad scientist intent on creating a utopian society.

I realize that’s a lot of negativity, but let me say “Guardians 3” has its share of entertainment. Fans of the series will simply love spending time with these characters again. And while their camaraderie lacks the zest we’re used to, the entire cast brings an energy the film needs. Also, it’s clear that a ton of money went into the visuals. Aside from some funky prosthetics and occasions of glaringly fake CGI, the film offers up some pretty delicious eye candy. We also get a couple of memorable action scenes highlighted by one kinetic ‘long take’ fight sequence that is nothing more than Gunn showing off, but it’s a lot of fun.

Despite its hefty 2 hours and 30 minutes, surprisingly “Guardians 3” never quite feels like a slog. And that’s saying something considering the movie’s many frustrations. I’m guessing die-hard fans will likely find this to be a satisfying final(ish) chapter. But James Gunn’s last foray with Marvel lacks the roguish outsider spunk of the previous two Guardians movies (sorry, but throwing in the MCU’s first f-word doesn’t count). Instead it’s an overprocessed send-off that’s so focused on going out with a bang that it loses its joy, charm, and trust in us to actually feel things on our own. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is in theaters now.


30 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”

  1. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this as I was enthralled by it while I was emotional over Rocket’s past and no wonder he didn’t want to talk about it. It was better than I thought it would be and certainly a film the MCU needed after Quantumania.

      • how did he milk it dry? the story was amazing, nothing felt rushed and it did not feel like it was pushing a lot to the fans, it was well balanced. honestly your overall review for giving it a 2.5/5 is i don’t know wrong lol, but thats just my opinion, sorry if i seem like an asshole but im not.

      • He no offense taken. I appreciate you taking time to read my take. For me it felt like Gunn kept going back to the animals being abused, tortured, and incarcerated. He knows it’s an easy way to get an emotional response from his audience and he goes to it time and time again. But that’s just my take. And as I mentioned, I think this movie will be satisfying to the fans. Glad you enjoyed it. I know many of my friends and colleagues did.

  2. 1 & 2 didn’t float my boat so I wasn’t going to bother with this one anyway, this just reinforces my decision! I can live animal abuse.

  3. That son of a “Gunn” movie was such an eyesore. The terrible acting of the villain , the gazillion cheesy jokes , that unbearable voice of the cyborg bunny, the soviet dog (the dog was cute though). Oh man , this was such a waste of time.

  4. I’m not an english native speaker, but I felt that the actor that played the High Evolutionary was amazing. I never felt despise on a villain in a long while.

    My only issue with with the movie is that some of the jokes are too forced. The elevator scene is not funny at all to me.

    8/10. Finally a good movie since Endgame!

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I agree about the performance. It was really good. I just never saw him as much more than a mad scientist type. And much of the animal cruelty was only there to get us to hate him.

      I 100% agree on some of the jokes. They weren’t nearly as natural as in the previous movies. And many of them simply consisted of them yelling at each other.

      Still, not a terrible movie. It has its moments. I just wish it had more of them.

  5. I’m in complete agreement about the movie and am disheartened at how many people readily have their emotions manipulated by such cheap tricks.
    Really shows a few things about human nature.
    Given it went so well i expect more in the future MCU movies.

    • I’m a bit surprised myself. It’s one of those cases where you can see a director working so hard to get an emotional response from their audience. And not once, not twice, not three times, but over and over again. When I realize I’m being yanked around it’s hard for me to get too emotional about what I’m seeing.

  6. Keith,
    I just wanted to take a second to tell you how much agree with your sentiment. As someone who has experienced a significant amount of emotional manipulation and abuse, I often find myself refusing to be easily taken in by films like this one which reach for cinematic ‘low-hanging fruit’ in a blatant attempt to make the audience feel emotionally dependent on a character. It’s my opinion that even big, dumb marvel movies–which typically I really enjoy–can involve subtle gestures and creative storyboarding to pull the audience in. This movie tried to push me the whole way and I hated nearly every moment of it. On a page of a comic book the worst bits of the traumatic backstory might make sense to me…you see the darkness and pain in a still image and then you can turn the page. In this movie, my senses were forced to bluntly experience the trauma as a means of making me connect with the story’s ups and downs and that’s not why I personally go to the movies. This was a surprise for me which I wish that I had been warned of prior to going to see it.

    Thanks again and take care.

    – Justin

    • Thanks for reading Justin. You make so many great points, many of which hit on exactly why this movie was such a disappointment for me. ‘Low-hanging fruit’ is a spot-on description of what Gunn goes for, and he does it over and over and over again. And as you said, big goofy MCU movies have already shown that you can earn an audiences emotional investment. This one doesn’t IMO.

  7. Good review. It’s always interesting to see what others are saying about the film, who are on the opposite end of spectrum of majority. Personally, I really liked this movie. I think Disney / Marvel allowed Gunn to make the film his own way, which is why the movie is more focused on Rocket and deals with much more heavier themes and imagery than previous installments. Perhaps the big thing I didn’t like was the inclusion of Adam Warlock, who was kind of a big letdown, and they really didn’t need to bring back Ayesha. Despite that, however, I loved the movie and felt it was perfect and satisfying conclusion to the narrative and ends on a high note rather than a disappointing whimper; something a lot of movies nowadays face.

    • Thanks Jason. My biggest issues revolve more around execution. I appreciated Gunn going full Gunn (even if I’ve grown a little tired of his singular style of superhero movie). But when I can see a director working it can often pull me out of a movie. That happened several times here.

      And I totally agree on Adam Warlock. He felt like such a tag-along character who was only there to serve the plot in two places.

  8. Thanks for the great and accurate review. Attended with two teens and we all hated it. The heart from the other movies was completely missing The animal abuse story was sickening, completely overdone and manipulative. The jokes all fell flat- didn’t hear more than a snicker from the theater. The soundtrack, which previously made this series so enjoyable and unique, was uninspired and almost an afterthought. Action scenes were just blowing things up – nothing was astonishing. All in all very depressing for a series that usually has good comedic moments mixed with heartfelt scenes and interesting action. This film was not it. At the end when you think it can’t suck any more, two characters abruptly announce the aren’t going to be Guardians of the Galaxy anymore. I don’t blame them.

    • Thanks for reading and taking time to share your thoughts.

      You bring up a great point. The previous films did a great job mixing heart, humor, and action. This one sputtered in that regard. And the emotional manipulation drove me nuts. It was so overdone.

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