For James Gunn, bringing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 to life seems to have been an incredibly cathartic experience for him – not just due to the fact that it serves as the culmination of the trilogy he has dedicated nearly a decade of his hard work to, but also given that the journey from script to screen is one of the most tumultuous. Following his infamous firing on July 2018, the writer/director agreed to work with Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films with The Suicide Squad, which was shortly followed by a spin-off series with Peacemaker. Gunn was ultimately reinstated to direct the trilogy capper, much to the joy of his beloved cast. It’s also hard not to look at this film and immediately think about what he has in store right after, given his new job as the co-CEO of DC Studios and as the writer/director of the upcoming Superman: Legacy. In the meantime, audiences will finally get to see how his trilogy starring the MCU’s lovable misfits concludes, and it’s safe to say that Gunn has succeeded with flying colors.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the second entry in Phase 5 of the MCU. It picks up after the events of The Holiday Special and finds the team settling its headquarters on the planet Knowhere. Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is still mourning his relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who does not share the same memories of her counterpart seen in the previous films. At the same time, a horrific event finds Rocket (Bradley Cooper) in danger, sending the Guardians on a quest to save his life while also learning more about his mysterious, and tragic past.
It’s been six years since James Gunn had written and directed a film with these beloved characters that went from being an unknown quantity to becoming household names in 2014. Although they have since appeared in the Russo Brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame as well as Taika Waititi’s Thor: Love and Thunder, the team shines brightest under Gunn’s direction and writing. While the characters have certainly had great moments in other films, Gunn treats the team as more than just heroes that make smart-ass quips in-between action scenes. With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we delve deeper into why each member is so integral to the team, with their own individual core purposes.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 immediately kicks off with a different tone than the previous two entries. While Vol. 1 famously opens with Star-Lord dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and Vol. 2 kicks off with Baby Groot dancing to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky,” this film begins with the acoustic rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” with a specific emphasis on the film’s most important character: Rocket. While promoting the film, James Gunn has expressed that he sees the anthropomorphic raccoon as the stealth protagonist of the entire trilogy, and that telling his story as the saddest creature in the whole universe is ultimately what drove him to direct the trilogy in the first place.
The film goes back-and-forth with its present timeline with the team journeying to save Rocket’s life, while also showcasing the character’s traumatic origins. As they grapple with Rocket’s past and his ties to the film’s antagonist The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuiji), each member of the team also come to grips with their own past trauma. When looking back at the last nine years, it makes sense why James Gunn opted to tell Rocket’s story in the final entry. Now that audiences have gotten to know him through five films both as a Guardian and an Avenger, we already have grown an attachment to him and seeing how he came to be is the emotional cornerstone of not just this film, but re-contextualizes the entire franchise.
James Gunn’s signature humor is still intact, much of which is thanks to the comedic chemistry that the core cast has with each other. In particular, Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) showcase some really funny moments with one-another with a charming dynamic. Gunn’s humor hits while some of the MCU’s recent entries such as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania fails to do so because the humor the Guardians display also remains core to their emotional sincerity, rarely ever taking audiences out with an out-of-place joke. Such an eclectic group justifies such humorous moments, given that the team must cope with their most emotionally-distressing journey they’ve had thus far as a team.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 explores the most dense themes of the entire trilogy. At its core, due to Rocket’s origins and the team’s emotional turmoil, James Gunn dives deep into have trauma shapes people. Some of the scenes involving Rocket’s early years are so emotionally intense, that they can be a trigger for those sensitive to depictions of animal abuse, so take that into account when seeing this film. Along with its exploration of trauma, the film has some philosophical dilemmas showcased through The High Evolutionary’s arc, which also invokes some spiritual parallels that include some Biblical allegories that come into play in the film’s third act.
As expected, the performances from the core cast are exceptional, with almost everyone reaching their peak performances as their respective characters. Chris Pratt remains ever-so charming as Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana portrays this version of Gamora with ease, and Dave Bautista continues not just to be hilarious as Drax, but also showcases some of the emotional nuances he’s developed in recent years to become a truly great actor.
However, the team’s standout performances are in Karen Gillan’s Nebula – whose arc continues to have the most impressive trajectory of any member of the team, Pom Klementieff’s Mantis – who is shown to have more under her mellow exterior, and above all, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket – whose voice performance showcases the most pathos to date. In regards to the film’s villain, Chukwudi Iwuji leaves a remarkable impression as The High Evolutionary. Iwuji reunites with Gunn following his remarkable turn as Clemson Murn in Peacemaker, and is incredibly captivating with his screen presence, and is the most easy-to-hate MCU antagonist in recent memory.
Another new character added to the mix is Adam Warlock (Will Poulter). First teased in one of the mid-credits sequences in Vol. 2, he finally makes his onscreen debut in this film. In a movie that is otherwise exceptional in its exploration of its core characters, Adam Warlock is a tad bit underused. Although Poulter’s performance is entertaining, his role in the story may polarize some fans, given his portrayal in the comics differs from how James Gunn portrays him in the film. That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments, particularly in visceral flight sequences that will undoubtedly give audiences a taste at what kind of action he has in store for Superman: Legacy.
Much like the previous two films, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is a visual feast. Shot with IMAX-certified digital cameras, the film is best to be experienced in an IMAX theater thanks to its expansive aspect ratio. The imagery is also quite vibrant, and its filled with wondrous colors that were sorely lacking in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. And when it comes to the iconic use of music, James Gunn selected an exciting tracklist for Star-Lord’s Zune, with music that explores newer genres. In particular, lookout for the sequence that uses The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn,” which will leave the audiences enthralled.
With everything taken into account, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the most emotionally-cathartic sequel to any of the MCU’s non-Avengers film series. It reaches similar emotional heights that the likes of Infinity War and Endgame famously provided for audiences, but is narratively satisfying in ways that will surprise you. Marvel Studios may be parting ways with James Gunn, who has proven to be their most exciting filmmaker, but thankfully, this film is the ultimate victory lap following nearly a decade working with Kevin Feige and the rest of the creative team. When you take into account the one-two punch of this and his incredible The Suicide Squad, the DCU may truly be something quite special.
Congratulations James Gunn, you not only directed the best trilogy in the entire MCU, but also one of the best film trilogies of the century. And to think, two of its main characters include a tree and a talking raccoon?