Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3
Updated: Jun 18
James Gunn's last Marvel film caps a solid trilogy
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be unraveling before our eyes, with each interconnected film flopping around for a reason to exist, the jump into a comfortable trilogy is a welcome breath of fresh air. Viewers aren’t demanded to know what happened in the previous three Marvel films, series, and after-scenes; instead, we can be content to have followed the previous two films of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 (2023) is the final film in James Gunn’s Guardians trilogy. In vol. 3 we dive into the roots of Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) past, how he underwent cruel experiments, and must meet his tormentor: the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). However, the Guardians are in disarray after the events in previous films, the likes of Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Nebula (Karen Gillian), and Drax (Dave Bautista) amongst others will have to gather themselves up if they want to make right by Rocket. Along the way, the teased villain at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017), Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), attempts to thwart the Guardians on their quest.
James Gunn returns to direct this final film in his trilogy, although he nearly didn’t. Gunn had been fired from vol. 3 after a resurfacing of controversial tweets, only to be rehired again when the cast rebelled against the studio. Gunn’s is a welcome return, as his three-film arc would have been grossly interrupted, leading to a disjointed feel to his beloved characters’ journeys. Since the firing, however, Gunn has been taken into the fold of the rival DC Comics, being tapped to be the new mastermind behind their rebooting universe. As such, vol. 3 is likely to be Gunn’s last contribution to Marvel.
Vol. 3 is a darker and grittier film than the previous Guardians. Rocket, while being a central element of vol. 3, is hidden away for a large portion of the film, having a large portion of the first and second acts be a series of colorful heists. While these have been a common tenet of Guardians films, they lend the narrative a procedural feel that tones down the finale’s stakes.
I was taken aback by how dark vol. 3 was willing to go with its subject matter, from uncomfortable scenes involving animal torture to gruesome fight scenes. Most of this is effective in drawing the emotions Gunn sought for, but their repetition does get to the point of gratuitous. However, excess has been a common theme in Marvel’s latest films, and thus the trend within Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 tracks well. The classic Marvel witty humor is unmoored in vol. 3, yet again, to the point of ruining emotional or dark scenes that could have used a more focused approach. It seems that every time Marvel wants to depict something dramatic or serious, they panic and must make a joke. One would have hoped that after 32 MCU films, they would have matured out of this trend.
One aspect that has always differentiated the Guardians films from others in the MCU is the chemistry in the ensemble. I would be perfectly happy to sit back and watch an entire film of the Guardians bantering and bickering on their ship. Pom Klementieff as Mantis is given the screentime she demanded in her breakout role last film, while Bautista as Drax continues to be the highlight of any scene he’s in. Pratt, now seasoned with blockbusters after the first Guardians film launched him into stardom, expertly maneuvers his charisma to draw out laughs and gasps from viewers. In the end, only Iwuji and Poulter as the film’s antagonists fell flat, continuing the Marvel trend of bland villains. Iwuji is given a stale role that he approaches with a “shouting = menace” method, while Poulter is rudely underused in a character that seems unnecessarily shoehorned into the film.
In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 is a sweet if slightly convoluted sendoff for Gunn and his original Guardians. There is a rush to connect many threads and storylines that had been teased in the previous two films, leading to an overstuffed and slightly shallow narrative. The Rocket backstory is winning enough, if watered down by unnecessary humor and gratuitous darkness towards the finale. The cast brings its irresistible charm back onscreen, and while the villains continue to be forgettable, these heroes have deservedly cemented themselves in the cultural cannon.