Director: James Gunn Starring: Chris Pratt, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Chukwudi Iwuji, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, Will Poulter, Elizabeth Debicki, Sean Gunn, Maria Bakalova, Nathan Fillion Running Time: 150 minutes
The ambition to give the characters that he helped popularise and who in turn, skyrocketed his career comes honestly and earnestly to director James Gunn. And a timely one, not least because viewers seem increasingly ready to get off the MCU ride. After on-off firings, souring of relations at Marvel and further successes elsewhere, Gunn has upped sticks over to DC, and the interesting thing about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, in so far as a post Endgame Marvel flick can still be interesting, is in the meta story at play as Gunn’s barely buried sentimentality combines with his urge to give a cheeky parting shot. Vol. 3 is Toy Story 3 tears meets Homer playing the bongos on Mr Burns’ head, a film with a very Last Day of School vibe in every way possible.
The film starts out being very clear about its sombre vibes, watching the Guardians set up shop on Knowhere while we follow Rocket moping around like Charlie Brown as he listens to Creep by Radiohead in its entirety. A crude, creative maverick, Rocket has always been the character Gunn relates to most, and this film explores his origins and their impact, but the raccoon himself is absent for a lot of the film. He’s left critical and comatose after an attack on Knowhere by Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), sent to collect Rocket by his maker, the perfection obsessed High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji, a Gunn alumni via Peacemaker).
The High Evolutionary is maniacally obsessed with creating a world of clean, beautiful, docile subjects in a world that bends to his whims, but he’s driven round the bend by the fact that he needs Rocket, in all his flaws, to get there. So while the plot of G3 is a straightforward finale, Peter Quill and co taking one last mission to save their friend by any means necessary, the plot under the plot sees the director sending a pretty blunt, puckish message. Rocket and other Higher Evolutionary creations are literally referred to in the film as ‘IP’, a desperate, malevolent and all powerful force seeking to bring a wildcard creator under its thumb, a sad, weird, angry but tired creature striving for freedom with friends while the confines of the Big Bad Brand loom overhead. We’ve all had a job we’ve been ready to leave, Gunn has the fortune of getting to work out his feelings about it via space mammals and evil aliens.
As Quill, Drax, Nebula, Groot, Mantis and the time-displaced Gamora haphazardly hop from set piece to set piece, bickering like siblings and getting into comedic mishaps, it all seems like standard Guardians fare, if you enjoyed the previous films, you won’t be sold short here. But the tone can veer suddenly and sloppily. Flashbacks to Rocket’s past are a tough watch for animal lovers. Watching him and other animal experiments be mistreated undoubtedly tugs on the heartstrings, but it can be overly emotionally manipulative. Be engaged by the Guardians’ last ride, or the bunny gets it, essentially.
In the present, the lovable loser side of Chris Pratt’s performance has long since been absorbed by his morose, serious action hero twin, aided by the character’s moping over losing Gamora. The dynamics of that relationship, with Quill mourning a partner who is physically right in front of him, but who was never actually present in the timeline where they meant something to each other, is interesting, but the film is stuffed with so much that it’s hard to pull focus on one storyline in particular. Players like Elizabeth Debicki hang around awkwardly, some stories feel underdrafted and underdeveloped, a consequence of the production’s commitment to giving every character their own ending. Still, that effort gives the film a kind of cohesion amindst the chaos, a Marvel movie actually heading towards an ending (mostly) gives more focus than their line has had in a while.
As Quill, Drax, Nebula, Groot, Mantis and the time-displaced Gamora haphazardly hop from set piece to set piece, bickering like siblings and getting into comedic mishaps, it all seems like standard Guardians fare, if you enjoyed the previous films, you won’t be sold short here. But the tone can veer suddenly, from broad comedy to weepy melodrama (hence Radiohead). Flashbacks to Rocket’s past are a tough watch for animal lovers. Watching him and other animal experiments be mistreated undoubtedly tugs on the heartstrings, but it can be overly emotionally manipulative. Be engaged by the Guardians’ last ride, or the bunny gets it, essentially.
It’s not that Guardians 3 isn’t funny, or emotional, in the moments when it’s aiming to be either. It faces a similar issue though as fellow Funko Pop favourite Rick and Morty. Keeping the tone balanced requires a kind of mutually assured expansion, as the laughs get louder and sillier, the emotional undercurrent gets more maudlin, the bullets have to be bigger to hit their marks.
But Gunn knows this weird niche of the multiverse he’s carved out for himself like the back of his hand, and he comes by the effort to see it off honestly. The “once more with feeling” tagline about covers it, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 works in giving you everything you’ve come to expect from this crew one last time. It’s not a hollow Greatest Hits, but a purposefully compiled mixtape once again; all bangers, no peaks and valleys, no deep cuts or curve balls but a sincere playlist of crescendos.(3 / 5)