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May 5, 2023


written by: James Gunn
produced by: Kevin Feige
directed by: James Gunn
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, strong language, suggestive/drug references and thematic elements)
runtime: 150 min.
U.S. release date: May 5, 2024


Without a doubt, the characters that compose the Guardians of the Galaxy team are best represented when writer/director James Gunn is at the helm. He gets outcasts and misfits and made significant albeit understandable changes to the comic book iterations of these characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While other directors played with these characters in their own sandbox – namely the Russo brothers (the last two “Avengers” movies) and Taika Waititi (“Thor: Love and Thunder”) – it’s Gunn’s approach that left an indelible mark on these a-holes. With Gunn leaving Disney/Marvel to become the Kevin Feige of WB/DC, “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3” will be the last time we see the team from Gunn’s perspective and probably the last time they have their own movie.

That being said, don’t expect a happy or rowdy send off for Gunn’s MCU swan song. “Vol. 3” is a decidedly darker, sadder, and angrier send off as we revisit these characters, much different from the joy, charm, and merriment present in the last two movies (and the unimpressive holiday special on Disney+ last year). Sure, there’s still funny, laugh-out-loud moments, but the overall tone here is unexpectedly dull.

The movie opens out in space on the former Celestial head known as, ahem, Knowhere, a one-time scientific observatory and currently a floating interdimensional home to a colony of wayfarers and a place where the Guardians of the Galaxy are calling home…or at least, home base. After many space adventures, including the whole debacle with Thanos and The Snap, the team is either ready to settle down or are licking their wounds, maybe both.

Gunn needle drops an acoustic version Radiohead’s “Creep” and focuses in on Rocket (once again voiced by Bradley Cooper) as he sits on his own listening to the song amid the bustle of the other inhabitants. It’s a good albeit overused tune, that works as an on-the-nose downer here (“I’m a creep/I’m a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here?/I don’t belong here”) that provides us with some headspace for not only where Rocket is, but possibly the rest of the team. After all, that is how outcasts and misfits feel.

As we follow Rocket Raccoon, we also catch up with his other teammates. There’s former Ravager, Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Cosmo (voiced by Maria Bakalova) the telepathic/telekinetic Spacedog, who works at Knowhere, and the rest of the gang, including Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and there’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). Quill is now a sad-sack drunk, distraught that the only living Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) is one from the past (if you didn’t see “Avengers: Endgame”, you’re lost), who is unimpressed with him and not the one he loved who died at the hands of her father (as seen in “Avengers: Infinity War”). If Quill is still the supposed leader of this rag-tag team, then it’s in bad shape right now.



Life on Knowhere is about to crash to a halt – literally, when a powerful golden-skinned being crash lands on the surface with a mission to retrieve Rocket. It is Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a superpowered creation made by Ayesha (a sorely underutilized Elizabeth Debicki), High Priestess of the Sovereign (introduced in “Vol. 2”) with the intent of destroying the Guardians. The team is blind-sided and overpowered, leaving the genetically-engineered Rocket gravely wounded and comatose. With the situation dire, Quill and the rest of the team set off for a place called Orgosphere, where Orgocorp. is headquartered (of course), in hopes of locating a way to remove the kill switch placed on Rocket’s heart long ago by his creator, Dr. Herbert Edgar Wyndham, aka High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), a twisted scientist with a god complex who’s determined to elevate (modify) all living forms to a “special race”. Their journey finds them crossing paths with Gamora – now a high-ranking member of the Ravagers, the criminal group Quill used to run with – who reluctantly joins the Guardians on their desperate heist which will hopefully save Rocket’s life.

Gunn has always had a soft spot for these characters, but specifically Rocket, often stated that there’s a story to be told about the origin of the sweet and salty raccoon. Well, “Vol. 3” is that movie. This is where we learn how he was genetically modified by the High Evolutionary and Gunn delves into this by exploring Rocket’s memories while he’s unconscious, a mostly successful storytelling approach which often counters the drama unfolding on the conscious world. In Gunn’s previous “Guardians” movies, it’s been hinting at that Rocket was poked and prodded in his past, turning him into the anthropomorphic we’re familiar with, but what about his mind? How did he develop such a savvy penchant for technology, machinery, and weapons? And, despite his protests, is he or is he not a raccoon?

All those questions are answered by Gunn in “Vol. 3”, primarily during the subconscious scenes from Rocket’s past, while he’s comatose. We never meet his parents or find out how or when he was apprehended by the High Evolutionary, we do meet him as a baby racoon that is caged with other racoons, alongside other animals for experimentation. Some of these cute animals die or are discarded after painful and violent tests intended to genetically advance the creatures have failed. Gradually, we see that young Rocket has the ability to speak, like some of the other Batch 89 incarcerated creatures he befriends – like Floor (voiced by Mikaela Hoover) rabbit with spider legs, Teef (voiced by Asim Chaudhry) a walrus with wheels for lower extremities, and Lylla (voiced by Linda Cardellini), the kind otter with robot arms – but it turns out Rocket’s mind has evolved more than the others which perplexes the High Evolutionary.



The High Evolutionary is based on Counter-Earth, a bizarro version of our planet, home to his evolved creations. The Guardians encounter the anthropomorphic residents (called ani-men, even though some are female) when their ship lands on what appears to be the kind of suburban street we’re used to, lined with single-family homes. However, the inhabitants look like they’re on the set of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and are quite startled by the arrival of the team. It’s one of a handful of moments in the movie where the stellar production values really shine, offering some cool visuals. Another cool visual moment is a heist that Quill, Drax, Nebula, Mantis, and Gamora embark on which find them on a science space station that is composed of organic material, where surfaces look like skin or organs. It’s bizarre and weird and fun, and the kind of thing I want in my action/adventure sci-fi.

After splitting up for separate pursuits (a chance to explore subplots and humorous moments), the Guardians reunite inside the High Evolutionary’s giant ship, which houses not only test animals, but also disposable humanoid children also being used for medical testing. An inevitable confrontation occurs between the team, this mad scientist and his bizarre minions as the third act concludes, with an aftermath that indicates the team as-we-know-it will never be the same.

Many will find that the tone Gunn takes with “Vol. 3” is a bit much in comparison to his previous GOTG movies. There’s an understandable sensitivity to animal cruelty and an off-putting response to the weird darkness this sequel has. While I get that, those aware of what Gunn has written and/or directed in the past should know he has such proclivities in him. This is the guy who started out in the B-movie world of Troma horror, after all. Still, I have a hard time seeing McDonalds Happy Meal toys or merchandizing targeting children 10 and under in a movie that incorporates violent torture and a face is torn off…twice. Oh, I’m sure some kids that age have seen worse and some can indeed handle all this, but it just seems a little wrong.

So, it’s hard to get on board with what Gunn if offering here for those reasons, but there’s others too. There are subplots and performances in “Vol. 3” that just don’t work for me. The whole thing with sad Quill lamenting his Gamora and puppy-dogging his way around a Gamora who has absolutely no interest in him romantically is kind of pathetic. Any other fella would take a hint and give up, but Quill somehow thinks that his sarcastic passive-aggressive approach around Gamora will win her over. That’s unsettling, to be honest – and it doesn’t really provide Pratt and Saldaña with great material to work with. (In fact, Pratt comes across as tired and uninterested throughout most of the movie.) Granted, Gamora is eventually won over by the team’s level of stubborn commitment to each other and overall camaraderie, it still just feels like having Saldaña back as Gamora is obligatory.



Some of the performances from the newer characters felt a little off too, but maybe that’s because I’m well-versed on their source material than the average MCU fan. Poulter is welcome here, but this characterization of Adam Warlock underserves the potential of this powerful and intriguing character from the comics. The joke is that here is this buff superman has the naiveté of a child, but that’s funny maybe once. Sadly, that’s about all there is to Warlock. Sadly, Poulter’s Warlock didn’t even need to be in this movie. The other problem is that not enough time is given to the character since the movie is overcrowded as is.  “Vol. 3” also introduces Iwuji’s High Evolutionary to the MCU and while he’s definitely warped and evil, too much time is spent seeing him hysterical and screaming at anyone within ear shot. That’s literally his most memorable quality and it underserves the villain’s threat. That’s on the direction of the actor, not the actor.

As for the music, something Gunn has become known for in these movies, “Vol. 3” was something of a letdown. There are some cool moments, like the use of Faith No More’s “We Care a Lot” and “This is the Day” by The The, which are both fitting and appropriate for the time they occur in the story. Too often though, the needle drop moments feel too obvious or the song selection is taking a song that is either overly familiar or overused, leaving us missing the deep cuts of the 70s and 80s that Quill listened too. I know I know, the Microsoft Zune MP3 player that Quill gave Rocket has been uploaded with newer tunes, but the soundtrack to these movies have become known for obscure or cult classic one-hit wonders, something that’s missing here.

Out of the three “Guardians of the Galaxy”, this one is the longest and it feels like it. Gunn includes quite a bit here in his effort to end on an epic and emotional note. Free from the goofiness of the previous entries, “Vol. 3” hits  darker and more violent notes, with unfortunately one-too-many near-death experiences for the characters we’ve come to care about…to, um, care about. It’s all unnecessarily drawn out and sadly not as satisfying as the previous times Gunn gave us with these characters.


RATING: **1/2



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