Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3
Guardians of the Galaxy holds an interesting place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only was Volume 1 the first entry in this mega-franchise to go into space, it really solidified the mixture of character-based gags, relationship drama and action that fills up the majority of these movies now. That one was fine, as far as world-builders go, with Peter Quill’s introduction in particular being the best of its kind in any MCU movie ever. Volume 2 did what sequels should do; it built on the original and pushed the characters in new directions. It is definitely one of the best Marvel productions thus far. Now, if the advanced hype is anything to go on, it is time to conclude the trilogy.
One way or another, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume. 3 is expected to be the end of the series. Story wise, it is satisfying. It pays off a lot of stuff, adds depth to some familiar characters and provides closure with surprising poignancy. Purely at that level, this is a success. Unfortunately, it fails at most other levels.
To start with, there is a real pacing issue here. I felt every second of its 140 minutes (plus mid/post credits scenes). It feels slow due to a noticeable lack of energy and excitement in the filmmaking. As a result, the humor tends to fall flat and story beats feel very stretched out. The awkwardly methodical pace makes several conversations come off as repetitive. It doesn’t help that the action sequences are largely dull. I don’t blame the writing for any of this. James Gunn’s screenplay has everything needed to be a strong series capper. The problems are in his direction.
Gunn never quite figured out how to make his story move entertainingly on-screen. He tries to force an epic when it just doesn’t work with this property. That is an uncomfortable fit with the jokes. The editing is also off, making it difficult to tell who is where during a few fight scenes and stepping on a couple of punchlines (actor spacing is poor in this regard, too). The Guardians have each been established so well that audiences are already invested in them. All that was asked for was a compelling story, clearly told. Gunn gets in their way too often, actively taking away from the viewers enjoyment of them.
This time, the plot centers around Rocket. When the wisecracking racoon is critically wounded in a surprise attack, Peter leads the team on a dangerous mission into Rocket’s past to save his life.
These products traditionally work hard to feature villains who do terrible things, yet do them for understandable reasons (revenge is the most common). Not so here. The High Evolutionary is unquestionably evil, with no attempt made to rationalize his crimes. He is the monster who experimented on Rocket way back when and he does not care who he hurts in his quest to build a perfect civilization. He is a good villain because the reasons for the heroes to fight him are obvious, he takes no sympathy away from them and he doesn’t distract from their journeys (he actually helps Rocket’s). He doesn’t need a ton of exposition to explain him, since he has been set up by previous world-building.
The other big positive is that the powers-that-be have basically allowed this to stand apart from the rest of the MCU. There aren’t any references to the other heroes or teases for future movies/tv shows to steal attention from what we have already paid to see (or at least none that I noticed). That is my biggest complaint about the overall franchise and it is absent here. They let the Guardians take center stage. That was refreshing.
Fans will want to see Peter Quill pine for back-from-the-dead Gamora, who has no knowledge of their history together, as well as laugh at the silly odd-couple chemistry of Drax and Mantis. They’ll want to see if this truly is the sign-off for these characters. All of the good stuff is included, but it is buried inside a messy, sloppily made, tremendously overlong, slog. MCU’s cold streak continues. At least Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 knows what it is; it just struggles to get out of its own way long enough to be it.
2¾ out of 5
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill
Bradley Cooper as voice of Rocket
Dave Bautista as Drax
Zoe Saldaña as Gamora
Pom Klementieff as Mantis
Karen Gillan as Nebula
Vin Diesel as voice of Groot
Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary
Will Poulter as Adam Warlock
Written and Directed by James Gunn