James Gunn and crew fly into the proverbial MCU nebula with a bang in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which is easily the best made Marvel movie since Avengers: Endgame (not that the competition has been stiff since then, sadly). Its darker tone and decision to heavily focus on Rocket’s fucking depressing backstory does stifle some of what made the Guardians outliers in the MCU in the first place, however.
Clocking in at two hours and 30 minutes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is half an hour longer than the first one and 15 minutes more than Vol. 2, and you feel it. Not a lot, but a little.
For some reason Mr. Gunn, who is formally off to competitor DC to presumably manage that universe for the next decade or so, decided that this third movie needed to go deep on Rocket the Raccoon’s backstory–and as such, the entire movie, its villain, and the action revolves around him. We spend considerable time in elongated flashbacks starting from when Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, who ironically, I would hazard, had less voicework here than he has had to do in previous entries) was just a cute little normal raccoon baby to when he becomes a genetically modified genius at the hands of the maniacal and anger-prone The High Evolutionary, played with gusto by Chukwudi Iwuji.
The flashbacks, while well done, are largely dark and depressing, especially assuming you can pretty much figure out how things are going to end up. It’s also easy to imagine an alternate version where Gunn cut them by 15 minutes without losing the gut-wrenching heartache or character development he wanted to establish.
In short, for a franchise known for fun, zany characters, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 feels a little too heavy, a little too sucked of fun.
However, it has a lot of strengths that most other recent MCU movies does not.
- The villain is pretty damn good; while he may not have the deepest of back stories, you really want him to die and pay for his sins by the end. Iwuji is great.
- The visual effects are top tier.
- The set design is clever, fun, and unique – in fact, one reason I panned the latest Ant-Man movie was that while it was set in another dimension, it largely felt like a poor man’s Guardians movie; Vol. 3 makes that even more obvious.
- There is still a fair amount of quality banter. While some of the actors look tired–Chris Pratt (Peter), Dave Bautista (Drax), and Pom Klementieff (Mantis) all appear as though they are drained–the cast’s chemistry is still top notch and Gunn knows how to capitalize on it.
- The story is self-contained. Vol. 3 isn’t interested in advancing the MCU storyline or hosting a bunch of superhero cameos. The story benefits as a result.
- The climax is top notch. Whereas so many MCU movies have third acts that largely feel the same, Gunn bucks convention just enough to stand apart.
- The emotion is real. Despite my focus on the stretched out backstory for Rocket, the movie simmers with real emotion that is rarely felt in Marvel movies such as this. As a result, you feel closer to the characters and more worried that they may not make it to the end–after all, this is their final movie.
While a shorter run time and some hard cuts to the flashbacks would have made the movie all the better, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is an entertaining, exciting, and emotional sendoff for those involved–and one of the more worthwhile Marvel movies to hit theaters in quite some time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.