Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on May 4, 2023

Theatrical Release:
May 5, 2023

This third and supposedly final entry is the kind of flashy fun we've long come to expect from Marvel at the beginning of the summer movie season.

Running Time150 min

RatingPG-13

Running Time 150 min

RatingPG-13

James Gunn

James Gunn

Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord), Zoe Saldaña (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Vin Diesel (voice of Groot), Bradley Cooper (voice of Rocket), Sean Gunn (Kraglin Obfonteri), Chukwudi Iwuji (Dr. Herbert Wyndham / The High Evolutionary), Will Poulter (Adam Warlock), Elizabeth Debicki (Ayesha), Maria Bakalova (voice of Cosmo the Spacedog), Linda Cardellini (voice of Lylla), Judy Greer (voice of War Pig), Sylvester Stallone (Stakar Ogord)


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

by Luke Bonanno

Marvel Studios has hit a rough patch. Two of their last three movies have ranked among their most coolly received by critics and moviegoers. All three of them have fallen somewhat short of reasonable box office expectations, which is to say they’ve grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, but not quite a billion, worldwide.

There was bound to be some reset and recovery after Spider-Man: No Way Home set the world on fire at the end of 2021. But mine can’t be the only apathy in looking at the movies that have been announced for the current and next phase of the comic book-spawned behemoth’s carefully cultivated cinematic empire. Another attempt to get the Fantastic Four right. A new Blade. A different Captain America. More Avengers movies. While Disney’s superhero division is still dominating the film world by ticket sales, I think we’re all aging/maturing to the point where we can understand what the great Martin Scorsese meant in the most widely quoted soundbite on Marvel’s place in the world of cinema.

There is no need to reflect any further on Scorsese’s sentiment, because as right as he is, being a master filmmaker and film lover, there is undeniable entertainment value in Marvel’s unprecedented barrage of tentpole spectaculars. The highlights in the company’s triumphant run include the aforementioned recent Spider-Man movie, 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, and Taika Waititi’s tremendous Thor: Ragnarok. One other film on that same level of excellence as those and arguably at the top of the class is Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn’s offbeat and delightful 2014 comedy that defied iffy expectations and won over the masses.

Donning matching uniforms, the returning guardians of the galaxy (pom klementieff, chris pratt, dave bautista, and karen gillan) work together to save their friend rocket.

The obligatory sequel, 2017’s Vol. 2, was not as instantly iconic or nearly as memorable as its predecessor. But it had enough going for it to qualify it as an enjoyable diversion and thus expectations for Vol. 3 are exactly where they need to be. In the six years since the ragtag team of space adventurers were at the center of a movie, they’ve made us chuckle on the edges of two Avengers blockbusters and Thor: Love and Thunder, in last year’s Disney+ Christmas special, and a separate Disney park attraction on each coast.

None of that content has dimmed the shine on this franchise, but some behind-the-scenes activity has generated some concern. The Internet has turned on Chris Pratt, declaring him “the Worst Chris in Hollywood”, mostly because of his vocalized religious beliefs and his rumored ties to a church accused of anti-LGBTQ behavior. It didn’t help that the Jurassic World franchise, which helped cement him as leading man material a summer after Guardians, flamed out in a hurry, delighting Universal shareholders far more than the average moviegoer. The negative sentiment towards the actor has done nothing to keep his and Universal’s animated Super Mario Bros. Movie from grossing over a billion dollars globally in just one month.

Then there is the James Gunn saga. Before Guardians, Gunn was unknown, his credits consisting of widely unseen genre flicks Slither (2006) and Super (2010) as writer-director and as a screenwriter of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and the two live-action Scooby-Doo movies. Disney/Marvel took a chance on Gunn and it paid off immensely when Guardians became one of the most highly acclaimed works in their Cinematic Universe. And yet, in 2018, Disney severed ties with Gunn after a right-wing commentator dredged up tasteless old “comedy” tweets the filmmaker posted years earlier.

The firing, as public and controversial as anything involving the Marvel Cinematic Universe, freed up DC Studios to tap Gunn to direct their Suicide Squad quasi-reboot. Despite what my fellow critics would have you believe, Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (2021) was a disappointment creatively and it truly floundered at the box office. And yet, since the outrage over his dismissal soon dwarfed the outrage over his decade-old tweets, Disney had already welcomed Gunn back into the fold by then.

As on the first two Guardians movies, it is Gunn alone taking writing and directing credit on Vol. 3. All the real world drama does not seem to have embittered, disheartened, or disoriented Gunn. His third Guardians adventure does not reach the heights of the first movie, but it qualifies as a minor improvement over Vol. 2, which is to say it is the kind of flashy fun we’ve long come to expect from Marvel at the end of April or beginning of May.

The dreary early years of the genetically engineered rocket (voiced by bradley cooper) are an unexpectedly poignant focus of "guardians of the galaxy vol. 3"

A solid amount of Vol. 3‘s plainly excessive 150-minute runtime goes to the backstory of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the irritable, trigger-happy genetic experiment who’s always reminding his fellow Guardians that he’s not a raccoon. Rocket’s origin as a test subject is not something the fans demanded to get, but it provides much of the heart and poignancy of this high-octane production.

Rocket’s past is doled out incrementally. In the present day, he’s fighting for his life after a nighttime sneak attack from Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), a member of the golden-skinned humanoid Sovereign who is tasked with capturing the furry bounter hunter. The “son” of Ayesha (returning and underused Elizabeth Debicki), Adam may well be the worst character Marvel has ever given us, but fortunately he’s largely on the fringes as our attentions are turned to the other Guardians, all of whom are determined to do whatever they can to save their friend.

Peter Quill (Pratt) is shocked to learn that his deceased love Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) lives, sort of. She has no memory of their history together and now serves as the leader of the space pirates known as Ravagers. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) has been given principal comic relief duties, the juxtaposition of his formidable stature and his lack of social graces giving the film many of its biggest laughs. Hampered by the fact that there are only so many tones his signature “I am Groot” can take, the powerful, Vin Diesel-voiced tree-like creature of the group seems marginalized this time out, trailing the likes of Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) in both screentime and significance.

The socially awkward drax the destroyer (dave bautista) provides the lion's share of the comedy in "guardians of the galaxy vol. 3. "

As always, the series makes room for a number of prominent needle drops, typically old songs that have aged well. The conceit grows more forced in every chapter and having moved on from the Walkman tunes Peter’s mother improbably compiled for him before dying, we now get eclectic works from The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, and Florence + The Machine to complement some classic rock jams more in line with the line’s established sound, e.g. Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone”.

The villain of Vol. 3 is a doctor known as The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who has been a nuisance to Rocket since early in his life. He won’t be cracking a Top Marvel Villains List anytime soon, but so few of the studio’s antagonists have ever resonated outside of Thanos and the Spider-Man universe that it almost doesn’t matter.

Will poulter makes his marvel cinematic universe debut in the thankless role of golden boy adam warlock, the "son" of sovereign leader ayesha (elizabeth debicki).

Like its predecessors, Vol. 3 is full of visual appeal. There is a surreal visit to a bodily planet where the Guardians adorn vibrant jumpsuits in all colors of the rainbow and Nathan Fillion plays a goon. There is also a detour to Counter-Earth, which is kind of like our planet if everyone was a furry. There is an appealing lived-in quality to the Guardians’ home base of Knowhere and lots of love in the details and callbacks. At its best, this series has played like a grungier and more comedic version of the original Star Wars trilogy. Even in its best moments, this threequel would still rank in the bottom third of that space saga, but it nonetheless delivers the thrills, eye candy, and laughs we expect of a modern movie with a quarter-billion dollar budget.

This appears to be the end of the line for the Guardians as we know them, not necessarily in the spoiler alert ways of John Wick: Chapter 4, but more in where things end up, the always calculated closing credits scenes, and actors’ equally calculated responses to the inevitable questions they’re asked by members of the press. In a decision that makes little sense for either party, Gunn has already accepted a chief creative role at DC, where he in theory is to course-correct Marvel’s long-troubled primary rival. He has repeatedly described Guardians as a trilogy, which renders this installment an epic (i.e. overlong) finale. It’s better for a franchise to overstay its welcome by a half-hour than an entire movie, so if this is the end, we leave with no major disappointment or unsavory aftertaste.

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