James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” brings a bittersweet conclusion to a franchise that has long been a part of the MCU. The highly dysfunctional family of misfits, orphans, and outsiders have continuously played by their own rules and marched to their own music throughout their tenure. It’s what sets them apart from any other Marvel Studio franchises. Yet, the idea of finality is scary because audiences have been able to connect with these wild and wacky characters who are more human than we’d like to think. Though the awesome mixtape comes to an end, it has plenty of tracks filled with laughs, tears, and a few frights.
While the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films revolve around themes of family, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” centers on Rocket Raccoon’s (voice of Bradley Cooper) origins story. It opens with how the charmingly sociopathic High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), the film’s chief antagonist, created Rocket through twisted experiments. Then, transitioning to the present, Rocket walks through the newly rebuilt Knowhere to the tune of Radiohead’s “Creep.” It’s unusual to see a sense of normalcy, even in a repurposed mining colony that was once a head. But the group’s dynamics aren’t the same without Gamora (Zoe Saldana). While Nebula (Karen Gillian), Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Kleminteiff) help build, Kraglin (Sean Gunn) trains to master the Yaka Arrow bestowed to him by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova) teases Kraglin for having a lack of control. Everyone seems to have moved on, except for Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), who is found drunk at one of Knowhere’s bars. It’s gotten to a point where his fellow guardians are tired of Quill’s drinking habits. And as Rocket reminisces when he looks at a trinket from his past, he is attacked by Adam Warlock (Will Pouter), a golden god with a child-like mentality. He brutally injures Rocket and leaves the fellow Guardians broken, literally. With Rocket on Death’s door, Quill and Mantis try to use med packs on their friend but don’t realize that the lifesaving medical device is killing him. Nebula discovers that there is a killswitch built into one of his augmentations as a means to prevent what makes him tick.
So the Guardians put Rocket on life support and attempt to get the information they need to save their friend by going on a heist on a highly secure organic planet. This heist will be challenging and requires Quill to reunite with an alternate timeline Gamora, who wants to have nothing to do with him. Quill still pines over his former love, and she rejects any form of affection from him. Suffice it to say the tension drastically affects the family’s dynamics. For one thing, this sad reunion was Neubla’s secret which she kept from Quill because he knew how triggering her presence would be and how it would hurt the outcome of their mission. And Gamora is just helping the Guardians with this heist for the credits.
Though the first act is overstuffed with lengthy exposition, it allows us to see how vital Rocket is to the family. And flashbacks provide the narrative information to see how he’s carried all that trauma to become angry and single-minded. But, of course, the former brash trigger-happy hothead has changed throughout the five films and one Marvel Studios Special Presentation he has appeared in. As such, Rocket’s character arc has more depth and nuance because audiences recognize that he is the victim of the High Evolutionary’s physical and psychological abuse. So the film sees the present Rocket out of the action, with the flashbacks providing the insight necessary for us to sympathize with what he has become. And the film is at its best showing how much a young Rocket cares for his cellmates, who are also products of the villain’s twisted experiments. And Gunn humanizes these moments by showing Rocket finding his first family in Lylla (voice of Linda Cardellini), an anthropomorphic otter; Teefs the Walrus (voice of Asim Chaudhry) and Floor the Rabbit (Mikaela Hoover). All are victims twisted by the High Evolutionary’s hands. But they dream of becoming a part of his perfect Counter-Earth. Little do they know, the High Evolutionary has no use for them as he gets closer to creating the ideal world. But the man who sees himself as a god has created flawed life. He is disappointed in his creation of Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and the rest of the Sovereigns. And he wields so much power that he can wipe out his products with one press of a button. Though he has to use a stool to measure up to the high priestess, she is minute when compared to the power he possesses. And he shows his strength by nearly killing Adam, whom she considers a son.
While the High Revolutionary has raised many flawed, imperfect creations that were on the brink of perfection, he sees Rocket as the key to completing his goal and will do anything to achieve it. His obbession blinds him from any alternatives to finding his answer, as such, it often leads to some very interesting choices. And because he has a history with Rocket, it helps bring Rocket’s story full circle. Now we know how it all start, which makes “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” all the more poignant because we know that it’s the finality for them.
Again, so many of these Guardians of the Galaxy films orbit around the theme of family. Such a focus on the theme makes it tricky since he has to balance it among several characters. However, he has no trouble making us care about them, especially when they are near death or are outright killed. And there will be death. We’ve grown attached to each of them despite their quirks and plucky attitudes, so we are overly concerned with their well-being when they sustain any injury or look like they will be killed. But the reality is that this is Rocket’s story. Everyone else is just along for the ride. And what a wild ride it is.
Some revelations in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” require previous knowledge of their appearances in other films for relationship context. Of course, that’s typical of any MCU film, but it isn’t so much that it would detract from the overall enjoyment. After all, much of the film is based on already-established humor and carefully selected hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. And if you don’t know about those dirty jokes or twisted sense of humor, you’ll be in for quite a shock.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is James Gunn let loose to do what he wants and end it on his own terms. In a way, that freedom enables the franchise to have the ending it deserves. These characters no longer have to worry about serving as a place card for the next act or setting up an epic crossover. Instead, the film has fun with the chemistry. The cast looks like they are having fun roasting each other while delivering the hits against the backdrop of chart-topping songs. And the film is surprisingly bloody and violent, with one-shot fight choreography that sees Groot impaling bad guys while younger Rocket claws at the High Evolutionary. There is even one f-bomb and a grisly scene that would make any horror film enthusiast happy.
The trilogy capper is also the chance to give some of the supporting cast to tell their stories and show us how far they’ve come since they were introduced in their respective films. That particular character development falls on Nebula, Drax, and Mantis. All three bring a sibling rivalry to the film, with Neubla acting as an older sister of sorts, Drax fully realizing that he was always a father despite his losses, and Mantis being the emotional support crux.
Though the finale is smaller in scope when compared to some of the others that came before it, its emotional scale is enormous. More so because it doesn’t have to act as the opening act to another MCU installment. As such, the film builds towards its finality and puts our favorite groups of misfits, orphans, and outcasts on an emotional roller coaster that reveals a lot about themselves and what other members of this highly dysfunctional family mean to them.
It’s hard to believe there’s a finality to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” film franchise. And yet, James Gunn directs the unexpected and fills “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” with plenty of delightful surprises. This is a dysfunctional family that we’ve grown to know and love despite their flaws, which they eventually overcame. Gunn manages to tell a character-driven story while still expanding upon the MCU through incredible world-building. When he’s let loose, he is having fun delivering something that’s joyous, heartbreaking, funny, and at times hyper-violent. So while the dog days may be over, we will still come over and get some love from these a-holes.
We rate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 9/10
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in theaters May 5, 2023.