Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 - Review (Spoiler-Free)


If you really sit down and think about the journey of Marvel’s most ragtag band of heroes, the path to get to Vol. 3 is a roller coaster. 9 years ago, a film about characters that few outside of the hardcore comic fandom knew about released to rave reviews and financial success that no one could’ve predicted. And just 3 years after that the sequel came to continue the weirdest superhero franchise (at the time). 

But between then and now, the characters have featured in two massive Avengers films, the director was fired (and promptly re-hired), and the MCU’s entire trajectory has shifted drastically. And yet, the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise soldiers on, becoming one of the best comic book movie trilogies to date. 

Still reeling from the loss of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) must rally his team to defend the universe and protect one of their own. If the mission is not completely successful, it could possibly lead to the end of the Guardians as we know them.

If it wasn’t clear from just about every piece of marketing material, this third entry isn’t pulling its emotional punches, nor is it shying away from the franchises darker elements. While Peter Quill’s story served as the backbone for the first two entries, the finale turns to the feisty Rocket instead. There had been hints of Rocket’s dark past before, but Vol. 3 delves deep into the events and individual who made him what he is. To talk about those beats in detail would obviously give too much away, but rest-assured it goes to some slightly grizzly places, with the imagery to match.

The core cast of characters all return, delivering performances that they probably could do in their sleep at this point, and yet, their chemistry seemingly knows no bounds. Some highlights include Bradley Cooper putting in some stellar voice work for Rocket, and Karen Gillan’s continued journey as Nebula, placing just more and more emotion into the once cold cyborg. 

The newcomers are not as noteworthy, though still solid in their own right. The appearance of the gold-skinned, super-powered Adam, played by Will Poulter, works as the muscle of the adversaries, but his character is pretty barebones. However, the High Evolutionary is a remarkable villain. Played by Chukwudi Iwuji, the mad scientist carries himself in such a way that’s equal parts captivating and intimidating. His motivations are simple, but his actions and presence make for a more than formidable opponent for the Guardians.

In a time where so many big blockbuster films are being critiqued for their less than ideal visual effects, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 reminds everyone just how visually creative and interesting this universe can be. The settings and locations take on a far weirder tone this time around, featuring grotesque textures and increasingly grizzly details. And then there’s the action, which moves with a kinetic pace befitting of such a frenetic franchise, including a hallway set piece that stands amongst the best fight scenes Marvel has produced.

It’s truly astounding that this trilogy exists given the source material and the various circumstances to get here. It’s the rare studio franchise that wears its heart fully on its sleeve, never pretending to be too cool to show the softer side under its harder exterior. The Guardians of the Galaxy series was already a crown jewel in the Marvel machine, but Vol. 3 delivers a finale that is just about as perfect as it could be, reminding everyone why we fell in love with the characters to begin with, and why we’ll miss them when they’re gone. 

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