Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023): James Gunn Fires On All Cylinders in This Marvel Trilogy Finale

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is directed by James Gunn (The Suicide Squad, Slither) and stars Chris Pratt (The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The LEGO Movie), Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek), Dave Bautista (Stuber, My Spy), Karen Gillan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Doctor Who), Pom Klementieff (Oldboy, Westworld), Vin Diesel (Bloodshot, The Fast and the Furious), Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Silver Linings Playbook), Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, The Maze Runner), Sean Gunn (Gilmore Girls, The Suicide Squad), Chukwudi Iwuji (Peacemaker, Designated Survivor), Linda Cardellini (ER, Freaks and Geeks), Nathan Fillion (The Rookie, Firefly), and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Cliffhanger). In this third installment to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy, the guardians must save the universe one last time, all the while protecting one of their own. Meanwhile, Peter continues to deal with the loss of Gamora, his love interest.

Of the Marvel Cinematic Universe titles out there, “Guardians of the Galaxy” may be the most distinct of the bunch. Sure, like all the others, it involves superheroes and saving the day. But it has a flavor to it that seperates it from “Iron Man,” “Captain America,” or “Ant-Man.” Part of it may be because of its off-world setting. Sure, a small part of the series is set on earth because Star Lord, the core member of the group, is an earthling. But he ends up becoming one with these faraway worlds. These films define escapism. Between the epic soundtracks, the heavy reliance on space, and the unique characters and surroundings, few Marvel films are as breathtakingly out of this world as these. That said, I am not going to pretend they do not have flaws.

Like many others, I love the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Although similar to many of Marvel’s films, the villain is kind of weak. Ronan does not stand out significantly, and he is kind of cliché. That said he does have his moments. Thankfully, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” has a much more compelling antagonist in Ego. Unfortunately the movie did not stick the landing for me. It was not funny, overly cartoony, and I sometimes did not buy some of the things that were happening. Oh, and unpopular opinion, I am not a fan of Baby Groot. I did not find him charming, and the movie overuses him to the point where he becomes a bore. That said, I do like the addition of Mantis. As for “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special,” I was shocked with how much I ended up digging it. I thought the concept was brilliant, and the execution exceeded my expectations. As far as Disney+ MCU content goes, it is by far one of the better pieces of media on the platform. Even with the ups and downs of this franchise, there is a consistency that I often consider a highlight, and that is the touch of James Gunn.

James Gunn is one of my favorite people working in Hollywood. He makes great Marvel content, he makes great DC content, and I love his persona on Twitter. He will willingly call out horribly inaccurate or clickbaity journalism regarding his content. He strikes me, from his personality, as the right person to direct these movies, and it shows as I watched “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” Many comic books have a stylized nature to them, and the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie franchise, along with this particular installment, presents itself in a palatable style that comes off as comic booky. You have well-written quips, fast pacing, and charismatic characters. When it comes to that last aspect, it is through the roof. If there is any franchise within the MCU that has the most charisma from its characters, it is arguably this one. In fact, perhaps the most likable character of the titular team is getting some more spotlight this time around. How could I say no to that?

When I think of Rocket, I think of Bradley Cooper. In fact, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is typically the first movie I often visualize of when the thought of Bradley Cooper comes to mind. Either that or “A Star is Born.” However, what makes Rocket compelling this time around is not Bradley Cooper’s presence, if anything, it is his lack of it. Despite saying that, most of the movie centers around him. Specifically through transitions between his present adulthood and his past childhood. The younger Rocket is voiced by someone who I often forget probably does a lot of heavylifting in this franchise, Sean Gunn. Between playing Kraglin, being Rocket’s double, and now serving as the younger Rocket’s voice, Sean Gunn continues to show his range of skills in this franchise. What makes Rocket’s younger iteration absolutely compelling is not only seeing the ins and outs of his younger personality, but how much he transitions to the Rocket he is today based on everything he witnesses at that time. During these flashback scenes, we see Rocket befriend other tiny creatures, and they all have these dynamic, hyperactive, child-like airs about them.

While I complained about how Baby Groot, a younger character, was used in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” I think a highlight for this film is its younger character slate. Because even though this movie pulls a 2016 “Suicide Squad” and endlessly shows flashbacks, they managed to seamlessly connect them with the present while giving an entertaining narrative by itself. While I have become comfortable watching the wisecracking racoon from the past couple films, I found myself compelled by a much softer variant of the character, and his development is perfectly realized throughout. His relationship with supporting animal sidekicks Lylla, Teefs, and Floor made for a great ride in terms of the narrative and the roller coaster of emotions I ended up experiencing as a result of this film. James Gunn effectively plays with my emotions like a fiddle throughout the runtime, and I love him for that. Speaking of James Gunn, let’s dive into one of his trademarks.

One of James Gunn’s talents through his career, specifically in comic book movies, is giving CGI characters significantly more emotional attachment than I have seen some humans have in film. One of my favorite moments of the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” is from the third act, where we see Groot sacrifice himself and recognize the bond he has amongst his fellow teammates. It is a very simple moment, but because of his limited dialogue, both in terms of the number of times he speaks and his diction, the weight of that moment is paramount. The moment he says the words, “We are Groot,” I felt that. In the 2021 movie “The Suicide Squad,” we see King Shark’s story play out, where like Groot, he is kind of simple-minded. He has limited vocabulary, he speaks in fragments, and does not have the most thought-out ideas. But whenever the movie resorts to his arc regarding his desire for friendship, it clicked with me. This talent also transitions to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” based on Rocket’s arc and his connection with his younger pals. I know James Cameron often talks about his “Avatar” films being the pinnacle of CGI, and I will agree with the notion that the films look stunningly beautiful. But those films deliver plenty of gloss while neglecting personality. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the best of both worlds where the CGI characters not only look great and have a degree of verisimilitude, but their dialogue and interactions benefit the narrative.

I ended up caring about most of the other characters as well. I think Chris Pratt does a good job once again as Star Lord, possibly giving the angriest performance I have seen out of the character yet. Gamora was well explored with her new self. What makes this interpretation of Gamora interesting is not necessarily her, but how others perceive her. I enjoyed seeing Star Lord have to deal with a Gamora that had no memory of who he was. I think that made for a compelling side plot. Dave Bautista gives a killer performance out of Drax. It combines the character’s strengths from the previous two movies and happily marries them.

As much as I like the effects in this film, I think Groot in this installment has the worst design I have seen of the character thus far. He looks too bulky and cartoony. As much as I did not like the Baby Groot character in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” I liked the way he looked. I cannot say the same about this interpretation. It is not awful, but compared to his predecessors, Groot in this film looks more like a Disney+ original CGI character.

The other character I thought was not utilized properly was Cosmo. Unlike Groot, I have no problem with the way this dog looks. But I do not think Maria Bakalova’s voice was a good fit. I remember Cosmo appeared in the holiday special and I did not have this complaint then. And when I mention this complaint, I am not referring to Bakalova herself. I blame the direction based on the uniqueness of the voice performance not paying off. Maybe if I watch the film a second time I will change my mind on this. Who knows? Plus, her arc almost feels insignificant compared to other characters. There is not much to it. When it was resolved, it was not as satisfying as some of the others.

Funny thing about “Guardians of the Galaxy,” as much as I adore the first film, I think its weakest element is the antagonist, specifically Ronan the Accuser. Meanwhile, I find “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” to be an inferior installment, but Ego is a fantastic antagonist. With this film coming between those two for me, I would say the antagonist of “Vol. 3” does the same. The High Evolutionary is fantastically performed by Chukwudi Iwuji. He is a little over the top at times, but even some of his more over the top moments, fit with what is going on. Plus, he was fairly intimidating in terms of his actions, motivations, and line delivery. I would not want to be the one responsible for ruining his day.

When I look back at at the previous “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, I would sum this franchise up to be the “Star Wars” of the MCU. Because aside from taking place in space, there is a lot of crazy action, futuristic weaponry, and a rag tag team of charismatic individuals. Some could also make the comparison to “Star Trek” if they wanted to, I could see a ton of similarities there as well. As for this third movie, I feel like the “Trek” vibes increase with this installment because it feels more allegorical than the previous two. It is not to say the previous two had bad stories, but I picked up on the message of the film a bit more quickly in regards to how it handles experimentation and animal cruelty. “Star Trek” over the years, and more recently, “The Orville,” has dealt with serious issues that affect our society despite being set somewhat outside of it. Not to pick a fight, I am more of a “Star Wars” fan than a “Star Trek” fan. But a strength of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is that it does what the “Star Trek” franchise does best, and that tendency is going to stick with me. You could argue that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is an allegory for animal cruelty with the Canto Bight sequence, but that is a smaller chunk of the film. Plus, that sequence, not to mention that film, did not emotionally resonate with me as much.

One complaint I will bring up regarding movies I do not like is that sometimes they will feel like two movies in one. In fact, Marvel, despite me liking most of their movies recently, falls victim to this complaint as well. “Thor: Love and Thunder” mostly blends comedy and drama seamlessly at times, but there are times where the comedy is stretched too far. “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is in the same boat. It is a massive adventure that tries to maintain the small-scale lightheartedness of its predecessors. When it comes to this installment, it is overly silly at one moment, but quickly transitions to being flat out dramatic in another. There is almost no between. For the record, both of those movies barely received positive scores from me. Although the tonal inconsistency happens to be the biggest flaw for both projects. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is another movie that could have fallen victim to this flaw. However, it does not despite having two major stories dominating the screen at every other moment. The reason is because of one story’s seamless connection to the other, without making one feel out of place. They had an equal partnership that delivered equally satisfying results.

And ultimately, that is the best adjective I can use to sum up “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” It is a satisfying finale. It takes the characters that people have come to know and love, and uses them in ways that triggers all sorts of emotions. Is this the best movie in the franchise? No. The first installment is still my favorite, but I find this latest sequel to be a significant step up from the second. James Gunn does not mess around with this film. It was said that this would be the finale for this group of characters, and as a finale, there are only a few ways it could have been executed better. But as far as this group of characters go, they end their arcs fantastically. No spoilers, but there was one line towards the end of the movie from one character that caught me off guard in the best possible way. I would not be surprised if we see some of these characters again in the future, say in an “Avengers” installment. But as far as the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise goes, I would be fine if we never get another one of these films as long as the MCU continues to exist. Maybe talk to me again in ten, fifteen years, we will see. But right now, I do not need to see any more knowing how things conclude. Plus, with James Gunn now at DC, all I can think about is what the process must be like to find a potential successor to him if this were to go on.

One last thing before we move on, if you have read many of my past Marvel reviews, my biggest fear regarding this universe is that with each movie, it feels like I, as an audience member, am being assigned homework. With the Disney+ shows now being a thing, the universe is starting to feel like overkill. Thankfully, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” feels like less of a commercial for other Marvel content than say “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” or “Black Widow,” which utilize themselves to advertise upcoming content that is not in their specific medium. Personally, it feels a bit tacky. Now, there is something exposed in “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” that is addressed in this movie, but I do not think you would need to spend money on Disney+ to watch the special to find out what that something is. As for the theatrically released movies, I think the previous “Guardians” films and maybe the last two “Avengers” installments would be my recommended prerequisites. That said, you could probably have a good time watching this movie on its own without any prior material being fed to you. For a 32nd film in an ongoing universe, that is a huge compliment.

In the end, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a thrill ride. Visually stunning, narratively pleasing, and massively satisfying. Another Marvel franchise now has a trilogy. It is amazing how far we have come. Is “Guardians of the Galaxy” my favorite of the Marvel trilogies? As much as liked this film in addition to the original, the second film keeps that from being a reality. It is a solid trilogy and despite my neverending flack for the second film, it does have its moments. But I think as far as a consistent run goes, I think “Iron Man,” “Spider-Man,” and “Captain America” reign supreme. I still think when I add up my scores for these films, the “Guardians” films outranks the first three “Thor” installments and the recently completed “Ant-Man” trilogy. But unlike the recent “Ant-Man” trilogy capper, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” was a ton of fun. I went in hoping to have a good time, and I ended up having a great time. It is not without its flaws. Before I forget, I must admit the climax, while entertaining, is occasionally bloated and goes on for a bit longer than I would have anticipated. Although that statement feels like less of a problem when I also remember that it is responsible for what is now my favorite action sequence in the franchise. With that said, I am going to give “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” an 8/10.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! I have plenty of reviews coming soon including “Renfield,” “BlackBerry,” and “The Blackening,” the last of which does not widely release until June, but I got to see it last night through a free screening so I will have my thoughts on the film when possible. Tomorrow I will be going to see “Fast X,” which despite my appreciation for certain parts of the franchise, kind of feels like an obligation, but hey, it’s a movie. Either way, all of these reviews are coming soon! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite MCU trilogy? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!


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