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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ review: Not a whimper, but a crescendo

Carljoe Javier

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ review: Not a whimper, but a crescendo

(L-R): Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Dave Bautista as Drax, Karen Gillan as Nebula in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. u00a9 2022 MARVEL.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

'One of the things that Vol. 3 does right is that it doesn’t need you to remember the specific details. It just needs you to remember the relationships and the people you cared for.'

Standing in line to get into the theater, and deprived of my phone, I couldn’t help but overhear people talking about their expectations of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Of course there were the zealously hyped. I liked how their talk came amidst a bunch of other people admitting that…they couldn’t really remember what happened. And some had lost track. 

But you know what? That’s alright. For all my love of lore, particularly the lore they’ve built around the MCU Guardians, I also found myself trying to piece things together. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is alive…but that’s a different Gamora. Yeah, sure, I vaguely remember that. And at some point, right, right, Nebula became one of the Guardians. And uh…Yondu used to be super important but…oh right…

After so much MCU, there’s just a lot to remember. And let’s be real, I am pretty sure the number of people who kind of can’t really remember or aren’t keeping track, they are much more than those who are obsessively connecting the dots. 

One of the things that Vol. 3 does right is that it doesn’t need you to remember the specific details. It just needs you to remember the relationships and the people you cared for. The movie offers a story that “feels” like it belongs with the others in the series. But you can totally enjoy it without necessarily having to do a review. (Though, in all honesty, with how much I enjoyed it, I’ll probably watch the first two then rewatch this third). 

James Gunn is closing out his trilogy with these beautiful misfits. And across films, these might be the most consistently fun and joyful crew to spend time with. It helps that Gunn has a wry sense of humor which Marvel has largely allowed him to retain. And he has these actors who know how to deliver that humor with such great timing and feel. 

Revealing what sets off the story might give too much away. So I’ll try and avoid any of the big details. What we get is a Peter Quill in mourning and a sort of unmoored Guardians. Then, as has been expected and hyped, Adam Warlock attacks them. From there, it’s a race against time. There’s a big bad dude called the High Evolutionary who…surprise, surprise is really, really into genocide, but only because he is pursuing perfection. 

While there’s a lot of big civilization-level talk, what’s striking here is that it manages to anchor those big stakes in some of the smallest (literally in this case) character conflicts. The film serves as an origin story for Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). He’s been the trigger-happy loudmouth in previous appearances, and here we come to understand what he’s been through. 

What he’s been through is brutal, and at times quite difficult to watch. It’s a testament to both Gunn’s boldness and skill that he manages to portray sequences of incredibly deep and distributing trauma while balancing that against the fun and light humor we’ve come to expect from a Guardians movie. Those who have difficulty watching torture or animal cruelty might find this tough.

Even with all the heavy material here, however, the balance is good. We get fun action sequences. We get silly banter (sometimes it starts to feel a little tired, but for the most part it’s still working). And we get what feels like a well-planned ending to this trilogy. 

The challenge of the superhero comics format is that it has to feel like the story has progressed, while at the same time there’s a kind of reset so that the thing can continue. New creators can come in and provide new life or introduce fresh new ideas.

With the closing of James Gunn’s version of The Guardians of the Galaxy, we see one of the successful ways this can be done in film. We get huge stakes. We have character development and even character change across films. And we can imagine that if we were never to see these characters again, we would be alright. At the same time, he leaves them in a spot where someone else could pick up any of these characters and tell new stories. 

I’ve come to stop expecting too much from superhero movies. While I still enjoy most of them, that enjoyment comes in bits and pieces, often at surface level. I take what fun I can have, and generally just accept that a lot of them are going to be “okay lang.” I almost have to apologize for continuing to enjoy them. However, no apologies are needed here. This is out-and-out a fun time at the movies, and a good superhero movie that delivers on the level of story and does the work to make us care and feel about the characters. –

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