Still reeling from the loss of Gamora, Peter Quill rallies his team to defend the universe and one of their own - a mission that could mean the end of the Guardians if not successful. (from IMDB.com)
After many delays, the final entry in the Guardians of the Galaxy saga is here, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. It's actually been six solid years since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hit the big screen (To the day, actually. It was May 5, 2017). A lot has changed for these characters in the time that elapsed, too. Although Guardians 2 was six years ago, we've seen these characters in two Avengers films and last year's Christmas special. To fully appreciate - and understand - everything in Vol. 3, you definitely will have needed to have seen all of these movies. The Christmas special revealed one nugget about the relationship between two characters, and also established that the Guardians had purchased the alien-head-turned-spaceport Knowhere and made it their homebase. But if you missed Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, you missed a very crucial plot point for this trilogy. In Infinity War, Thanos sacrificed Gamora in order to get the Soul Stone. All of the Guardians except for Rocket and Nebula were also dusted with Thanos' galaxy-altering finger snap. In Endgame, the Avengers fought to bring back those who Thanos erased, but five years had passed since the initial snap-heard-'round-the-cosmos. So when everyone who'd been erased returned (Except for those lost in the Soul Stone sacrifice), they came back five years later. But it was at that time that Thanos from 2014 time-traveled to the future to try to get the stones back from the Avengers, and 2014 Gamora had traveled with him. When Iron Man sacrificed himself to defeat Thanos' army, 2014 Gamora was spared, and went off on her own... not to be seen again. It's important to realize that this version of Gamora never experienced the events of the Guardians films and didn't even know them. At the end of Endgame, the Guardians head back out into space, with Thor in tow, to continue their adventures. At the beginning of last year's Thor: Love and Thunder, we saw that the Guardians had spent some time with Thor, before leaving him to go back out on their own. From there, we don't see the gang again until the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.
The first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies heavily revolved around Chris Pratt's Peter "Star-Lord" Quill. The first movie opened with a flashback to his childhood when Yondu abducted him into space and made him one of the Ravagers. The second film opened with a flashback of his alien father, Ego, courting his mother. For Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the focus is primarily on a different member of the Guardians' team. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won't divulge who, but if you've seen any of the trailers for this movie, it's easy to guess who that might be. But Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is largely known to be the swan song for this group of the Guardians, and controversial film director James Gunn returns to close the book on this chapter. Some loose threads from Vol. 2 do get picked up, so if you wondered when those setups might be getting payoffs, they're all in this movie. We also get some answers to the Gamora drama, as well as a satisfying conclusion to the arc of this team of characters. It's clear that Gunn knows this is the end, so he makes sure to go all-out one last time. It's another deeply personal story for the Guardians - not unlike Vol. 2 - so it adds very much to the emotional weight of the story.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a pretty big movie. Gunn flexes his creative muscles to give the audience a very, very weird movie yet again. But it seems as though he kicked the weirdness factor up to eleven this time around. We see all kinds of creatures and aliens and environments that are definitely out of the ordinary. Although we live in an age where many moviegoers probably feel like they've seen it all, Gunn does his best to make sure we haven't. One of the most bizarre sequences takes place on a biologically-constructed space station. It's super unusual, and maybe a little gross, but it works for giving audiences something different than what we're used to. All of Gunn's creative explorations just further expand the world of Marvel and the MCU, and even when some things start to feel a bit too convenient, which shrinks the world a bit (like certain characters conveniently running into other characters), Gunn still manages to surprise us.
The stakes are high for the Guardians in Vol. 3, with nearly every character coming face-to-face with their mortality at some point, keeping the fans holding their breath for fear of these characters' safety. If you thought Vol. 2 was dark, Vol. 3 gives it a run for its money. Granted, Gunn still keeps the party fun and super funny at times, but the story is a heavy one for sure. Substantial stretches of the movie are quite serious and weighty, so if you're particularly invested in these characters, Gunn's certainly going to make you feel it. The instrumental score even matches the tone differently this time around. Sure, the Awesome Mix of popular songs is still carefully selected and fitting, but this time the movie opens with Radiohead's "Creep" instead of the boisterous sounds of Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" (the first movie) and E.L.O.'s "Mr. Blue Sky" (Vol. 2). It's clear we're in for a different Guardians here. Composer Tyler Bates sits this one out, with John Murphy stepping in instead. Honestly, this is arguably a stronger and more memorable score, which does reprise Bates' Guardians of the Galaxy theme song at just the right moments. I always thought Bates' scores were a bit vanilla, and even overused the theme a bit too much. Murphy's entry seems to hit all the right notes emotionally and thematically.
The content of the movie unfortunately matches the heavier tone. Pratt even drops the MCU's first-ever "F-bomb" when you least expect it. It's done to be a shock - and funny - but I found it extremely distracting in the moment, actually. At this point, we have over 30 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 breaks the streak to include it. Instead of being in the moment in the movie, it's easier to get distracted thinking, "He just said that! Did I hear that right? That's the first time, right?" which isn't the thing you want your audience to be focusing on in a movie like this. (Yet, reportedly, producer Kevin Feige suggested to Gunn that he doesn't want to be known for having the first F-bomb in an MCU movie and supposedly Gunn ensured him that he in fact does.) Other than that frustrating content choice, there's surprisingly only one noticeable use of the "S" word (from Gamora), and a handful of other swear words, with "h*ll" and "d*mn" being the most common. Other than language, the violence definitely pushes the PG-13 envelope quite a bit. In addition to several scenes of animal cruelty and torture, there are quite a few action scenes with creatures getting cut up or dismembered, characters on the verge of death, characters threatening death on others, etc. There's even a short scene that shows a disfigured face up close that brings to mind some serious gruesome Two-Face imagery from The Dark Knight. This is one heavy MCU entry, gang. One of the movie's many subplots involves creatures who are basically cyborgs, and it kind of feels like a live action version of Sid's creepy bedroom from Toy Story. We then see other half-machine-half-animal creatures that meet some graphic demises (with a humanoid character even nonchalantly carrying a decapitated animal head under his arm at one point). We also see a character floating in space as their face balloons and swells as they freeze to death. The Guardians movies have never been "light," but Vol. 3 feels like Gunn off the leash. I know DC let him go nuts with his version of the Suicide Squad two years ago, and it seems to just have made him bolder with Marvel.
Overall, how does Vol. 3 compare to the other two movies? I've only seen this one once so far, but I think it sits between the 2014 original and Vol. 2. The first sequel has its merits (after all, it introduces us to the wonderful Mantis), but the first entry was just something really special. Gunn seemed to strike the perfect balance between humor and sci-fi action, and I don't think he's been able to recapture it quite the same since. Actually, I'd probably prefer the Guardians scenes in Avengers: Infinity War over either of the direct Guardians sequels, but they're still pretty good sequels. I have to hand it to Gunn for not retreading familiar territory in any of his follow-ups, which is something sequels are often guilty of. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels quite fresh, with lots of new things to offer, and plenty of significant character beats for all of the main characters. If you like the Guardians, Vol. 3 will probably only make you love them more.
The MCU has been extremely spotty since the first major run concluded with Avengers: Endgame. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is quite easily the best MCU movie since Spider-Man: No Way Home, but that might not be saying much given the studio's track record as of late (The higher points being Black Widow and Shang-Chi, the lowest being Eternals and Thor: Love and Thunder). Vol. 3 is emotional, entertaining, funny, heartbreaking, imaginative, and memorable. It may not be the best of the series, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a nice way to kick off the 2023 summer movie season.
If you're wondering about post-credits scenes, there are a couple, including one after the credits finish that actually makes an intriguing promise of a returning Guardian in future movies...- John DiBiase (reviewed: 5/7/23)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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