Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the final instalment in James Gunn’s Guardians trilogy occasionally gives over to faults, but the journey of the characters you love comes to a cathartic conclusion nevertheless. Issues with this film are more specific and would benefit from a spoiler-filled discussion, but a review is in order. The most any certified plot synopsis lets on is: “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.”
Among the team on that mission, the cast is so well settled in by this third film (3rd and half if you consider the Avengers Infinity Saga films), and their dynamic is sincere as ever, even as its closer than before. Mantis specifically has developed into a major role with characterization to match, and Dave Bautista is given more to work with as well. In the broader cast, the villain is Chukwudi Iwuji, who brings theatrical intensity, but completes the set of flat villain types. Will Poulter as Adam Warlock is a more superficial Drax, which is just as funny.
The production design on the series once again is fantastically realized, even if it’s not the most creative conceptually (also some of the makeup on bit-part aliens belongs on Sexy Beasts). Gunn’s also allotted more accommodations for out-there filmmaking choices and orchestrated sequences in his entries, and a present directorial hand again uplifts the film as a rule.
Volume 3 is supposed to be the darkest of the series by far, and on the surface that’s true. But surface is the thing, the previous instalments have wonderfully realised explorations of character as effected by similar traumas. As you watch, thoroughly entertained and involved in a space adventure with beats of emotional sincerity, in the paratext of the previous films, the characters are utterly defined by the sort of tragedy that does not get the spotlight in Marvel films. If you stop to consider it, Peter and Mantis are the products of invasion patriarchs, provided fatherly approval on a conditional basis, while Gomora, Nebula and Rocket were kidnapped as children, cruelly tinkered with and pushed to excel, by similar father figures.
All of them lost their mothers in some way. Drax lost his family in a different manner. Because it’s the last one, they’ve let Gunn go all out in clearly demarcating this as a movie that loves the characters enough to explore them openly, really as the purpose of the film. That does mean Gunn detaches the admirable exploration of the characters which usually lays supporting an excellent action adventure from its subtlety. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is only a dark film if you connect with the scenes of that nature, and you may not. They are putridly one-dimensional, poorly written and beyond on-the-nose. Rocket’s past is eons less interesting than the complicated fellow Gunn has involved us with. This is not a popular opinion, it should be said.
It should be said, this includes one of the few earned dance party endings in moviedom. The series’ relationship to music has always been key, though more tentatively each time. This entry is the least of those, though it weaves music across most plots meagrely. This has the least exciting soundtrack of the three, and giving Quill access to more modern music also seems to run counter to his still-arrested development. It could be a complete misinterpretation of the state of Quill’s character arc by this film. Still, opening your movie on an acoustic cover of Creep is begging for snark, though this scene stands as an early omen of that “on-the-nose” problem discussed before.
Often a problem with Gunn is the tug-of-war between comedy and seriousness, each working against each other by swinging the tone too abruptly. This film has about as many jokes as usual, though they are more lowkey generally, and the soundtrack does not halt to accommodate them as much. Occasionally this produces a curious effect, and laughs were a conservative minority in this screening.
The issues explored here are more along the concerns of the critics. Audiences will love Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and it’s likely to outdo the second in the trilogy. It’s better to have an earnest, but flawed movie than the normal Marvel output in polished form. The fact is that there’s still the emotional motivation behind Gunn’s work on these films, which you could mark as imperfect, but ultimately special. That’s the strongest firmament of any of these films, and its what will reach through to fans. This is the strongest trilogy in the MCU.