Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3' is a Satisfying Conclusion to Gunn's Trilogy
by Manuel São Bento
May 9, 2023
We have arrived at the 32nd MCU movie and the end of a trilogy started in 2014 by the filmmaker James Gunn, called Guardians of the Galaxy, based on the comic book series created by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning. The Marvel franchise has generated several debates about quantity vs. quality in the last few years, but the truth is that the vast majority of its projects continue to be well-received by general audiences and critics alike. That said, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is one of the most anticipated movies of this new saga and might actually revitalize the enthusiasm of most fans who have been disappointed with the latest MCU installments. For me personally, it has further strengthened my passion for this cinematic universe.
Most moviegoers don't read that many comics, so when the first Guardians of the Galaxy came out, no one expected anything due to their total lack of knowledge of the respective heroes. Gunn brought what's clearly a personal project to the MCU, and the truth is that 15 years after it started, the original Guardians movie remains a personal favorite of many fans of the franchise, including myself. The 2017 sequel, on the other hand, overdoes the humor that worked perfectly in the predecessor, losing some of the near-perfect balance, despite being a highly satisfying, entertaining flick.
Therefore, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 carried a heavy load on its shoulders. On one hand, Gunn has begun his next journey at DC, so this will be the last movie written and directed by the filmmaker featuring his Guardians, so it's necessary to wrap up numerous character arcs. On the other hand, even though I'm on the positive side regarding the offerings in Phase Four, I admit that the MCU needs that "banger" to please all types of audiences, so Gunn has to deliver a truly impactful movie that leaves most viewers delighted.
Answering short and to the point, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 could hardly be a better conclusion to this trilogy that now becomes one of the most complete, efficiently told stories in the MCU, despite some minor issues. I often state that the two pillars of cinema are story and characters. The highest praise I have to give Gunn and his team is precisely related to these two movie-making elements. It's genuinely remarkable how all the Guardians get such detailed, thoughtful attention in this movie, to the point where each feels like the main protagonist at certain stages of the runtime.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 explores the motivations, desires, dependencies, traumas, and regrets of the main heroes, with the heart and soul of the narrative belonging to Rocket Raccoon's (Bradley Cooper) painful, heartbreaking, tragic past. Through flashbacks, viewers follow the origins of the raccoon that Gunn always considered the main character of the trilogy anyway. After this film, many of the filmmaker's past statements make much more sense. Cooper once again lends his incredible voice to Rocket – the actor is completely unrecognizable – but it's the visuals surrounding the character that left me speechless.
With the big budgets that Marvel movies tend to have, a certain quality within the realm of visual effects is to be expected, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a fantastic example of how mixing practical effects with polished CGI can produce outstanding results. Especially in these Rocket flashback scenes, practically everything on the big screen is created digitally, but the realism is such that the moments of animal torture become truly disturbing and will easily shock animal lovers – the PG-13 is barely acceptable. Exceptional effort by the VFX artists who deserve all the credit and acclaim.
Returning to the character arcs, Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) continues to deal with the loss of "his" Gamora (Zoe Saldana), but contrary to appearances in other movies, the approach to this storyline is more serious and somber, something that demonstrates how much Gunn cares for his Guardians. The balance between comedy and drama goes back to the level of the original film, making the smaller number of jokes even more effective, with some provoking very audible laughter with the audience I watched this movie with. Quill and Gamora share an arc related to the challenges of facing a "new world"…
On Quill's side, life will never be the same without his great love… On Gamora's side, she must adapt to a literally different universe from a distinct timeline. Star-Lord goes through the known stages of grief, while Gamora takes refuge in what she was taught to believe, refusing changes that imply a new interpretation of life and those around her. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 manages to develop these themes without giving in to cliche resolutions that would, without a doubt, ruin much of what had been built in the last few movies.
Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel) may not have as much screen time as others, but Gunn is able to swing the main spotlight onto each character, allowing them all to shine at some point. Nebula feels closer and closer to the Guardians, forming family bonds that fill the character with new, positive emotions. Mantis preserves her cheerful friendship with Drax, as the duo continues to share many memorable moments together. And Groot… keeps growing.
Still, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 makes it clear that pretty much everyone wants something… new. Some desire to settle down and build a community they can protect and care for, while others would love to further explore the vast universe full of even more adventures. Some have individual ambitions, while others feel like they belong in a group. Without spoilers, I can only convey that Gunn subverts the most predictable expectations in the most compelling, powerful manner possible. It avoids basic solutions while putting the characters on an uncertain yet interesting course.
Family and friendship are broad themes, but these are clearly the topics that encompass the film. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 capitalizes on the enormous chemistry of the cast, making every interaction feel endearing, entertaining, and inevitably emotional. Don't let my words mislead you, the movie contains more than enough action sequences, including a spectacular blend of CGI, stunt work, and stitch cuts that create a phenomenal "one-take" set piece. John Murphy's excellent score and the unforgettable song choices of this saga are standout technical components once again.
However, not everything is perfect in this sequel. The overhyped build-up to the introduction of Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) makes the character one of the biggest disappointments of the entire film. I'm not familiar with his comic book arc, but even within the MCU, his addition to the cast of characters was eagerly anticipated by fans. The truth is that in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Warlock is nothing more than a new device to progress the plot, occasionally appearing and disappearing to initiate chaos. The character is extremely underdeveloped, but it's worth noting that Poulter isn't to blame.
On the evil side, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) also lacks originality and creativity. In the end, he's kind of like Thanos and Ego, holding the same ambition to create the perfect world, but in addition to his cruel, vicious animal treatment, he's a much less intriguing, intimidating villain than those mentioned. Iwuji delivers a purposefully over-the-top performance that doesn't always sit well. Regarding the rest of the characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 also left me thinking about how Gunn didn't really do anything with the information revealed in the Christmas special about Quill and Mantis being siblings, as well as Quill's drinking problem that quickly becomes a throwaway issue.
Finally, flashbacks to Rocket's past occupy a good chunk of the movie's two-and-a-half hours. Most come when Rocket seems to be remembering his past, but others are inserted at questionable moments, breaking the "rule" constructed at the beginning of the flick. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 doesn't suffer much from this, but from a certain point onwards, the flashbacks are used exclusively as a narrative device rather than justified by some event or action. Fortunately, all these are minor problems without much impact on the enjoyment of the movie. Gunn bids farewell to the MCU with Vol. 3, which I believe will bring back that global longing for the next film in this cinematic universe. Whether Kevin Feige can ride this positive wave left by Gunn or not remains to be seen. For now, a huge thank you to Gunn for three memorable movies that will, for sure, forever mark the careers of everyone involved.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is an emotionally powerful, tear-inducing "farewell" to James Gunn and his Guardians characters. Rocket's bittersweet storyline is the soul, heart, and engine running the best MCU film since Spider-Man: No Way Home. It's visually stunning with exceptional VFX work. The score and soundtrack couldn't be more perfectly matched. Superb performances from of the compelling protagonists and even the fun cameos. A better comedy-drama balance than its predecessor, while still offering tons of entertaining sequences. A few minor issues hold it back from standing out as "one of the greats", but it was hard to deliver a more satisfying conclusion to this much-beloved trilogy. And also – a final warning to all animal lovers who may find the cruelty displayed on the screen too much for them to enjoy the movie.
Manuel's Rating: A-
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