Before the first Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014, who would have thought we’d get here? After the smash success of Vol. 1, the Guardians have gone onto star in a direct sequel, two juggernaut Avengers epics, a Holiday Special and a fun sequence in Thor: Love and Thunder. ‘I am Groot’ became instantly quotable, the Awesome Mixes became popular playlists and the ensemble cast have gone onto even more success in other projects. While Marvel Studios had earned great success before Guardians of the Galaxy, a huge part of these films’ popularity is down to writer and director James Gunn, who has expertly blended humour, heart, action and eccentricity into the characters and story. After some delay (due to a different kind of ‘blip’ in 2018), the Guardians are finally back for one last adventure in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
While the first two Guardians volumes were focused on parental figures – Peter’s relationship with his mother, father and Yondu; Nebula and Gamora’s trauma from Thanos; Drax losing his daughter – this third instalment aptly sees the characters focus on themselves and their growth. It’s fitting then that this band of weird misfits must face off against an antagonist intent on creating the perfect species. The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, fresh from Gunn’s Peacemaker series) is a wannabe god, and the being who experimented on Rocket (Bradley Cooper) from a young age. The hints at Rocket’s backstory finally come together in a series of flashbacks as his fellow Guardians realise not only the threat they face, but the trauma their friend endured at his hands. Despite it’s 12a certificate, Vol. 3 goes to some dark places in exploring Rocket’s story – one of abuse and cruelty – but doesn’t lose the heart of its predecessors. The emotional core of these sequences is bolstered not only by the performances of Sean Gunn and Bradley Cooper as Rocket, but by some truly incredible visual effects work. Rocket himself feels like a living, breathing character, and there’s never a sense that he isn’t interacting with the other characters. His scenes with the High Evolutionary are harrowing to watch unfold.
While Vol. 3 is very much Rocket’s film, it doesn’t lose sight of the larger ensemble: Quill’s (Chris Pratt) depression after losing Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), Gamora’s alternate timeline self conflicting with her former friends, Nebula’s (Karen Gillan) abrasive but sentimental nature, Drax’s (Dave Bautista) sense of humour amidst his pain, Mantis’ (Pom Klementieff) growing courage and sensitivity, and Groot’s (Vin Diesel) love and appreciation for everything and everyone around him. Even Kraglin (Sean Gunn) and Cosmo the space dog (Maria Bakalova) have smaller side-stories over the course of the film. Will Poulter‘s Adam Warlock is finally introduced (after a credits scene tease in Vol. 2, back in 2017) and makes for a surprisingly funny supporting antagonist – albeit with room to grow in a prospective future production. Alongside the large main ensemble, it’s difficult not to feel that Adam isn’t given as much focus as perhaps he could have, but the emphasis is very much on the core Guardians in Vol. 3. As to be expected, the entire ensemble cast are fantastic and perfectly cast in their roles.
There are criticisms to be had with the story – it’s a little uneven in parts, mostly due to juggling so many characters and their respective arcs, not to mention James Gunn‘s tendency for making characters speak their minds in slightly clunky monologues (in a way that audiences will find either charming or distracting) – but the plot is kept fairly simple, allowing enough room for the Guardians’ dynamics to be explored in fun and emotional ways, and for some entertaining action set-pieces (its $200+ million budget is definitely up on screen). There’s never a moment that feels wasted, even if some concepts take a little while to get a pay-off, and by the time the third act rolls around, it’s difficult not to get completely swept up in the narrative. Every single Guardian gets their moment to shine (a hallway fight sequence is a particular highlight), and their stories are all wrapped-up wonderfully. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a lot like Avengers: Endgame, in that while it feels a little baggy in places, it keeps its emphasis on the characters, resulting in an extremely satisfying ending.
It’s interesting to see James Gunn‘s style evolve over the course of his filmography, with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 continuing a lot of the aesthetics of the first two entries, adding some stylistic elements from The Suicide Squad and experimenting with new visuals. Much like with Squad, cinematographer Henry Braham shoots the film entirely with IMAX-certified cameras, adding a terrific sense of scale to the action and showcasing more of the actors’ performances in the close-ups, while John Murphy takes over from Tyler Bates for the score, retaining most of the key musical themes, and the new Awesome Mix is, as to be expected with Gunn, excellent as ever. A lot of credit has to go to the costume and production design work (it all looks amazing on screen), as well as the aforementioned brilliant visual effects work. Sure, there are inevitably moments that looks slightly off, but the CGI characters feel real in a way that’s hard to describe, and everything is really well-integrated with the live-action elements.
All in all, Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the perfect ending to James Gunn‘s trilogy – a funny, emotional ride which gives every character a moment in the spotlight and concludes their storylines in an immensely satisfying way. If this is the last time we see the Guardians, this is a fitting concluding volume.