In what is intended to be the final installment of the Guardians of the Galaxy
film franchise (although some of the characters will likely return in other Marvel properties), writer-director James Gunn gives us a fitting farewell. He shows a real love for these comic book misfits he has brought to life over the past ten years or so, and understands them. He also understands his audience, and gives them exactly the close out film they need before Gunn moves on as being one of the heads of the DC Cinematic Universe.
As in the previous films, the movie mixes a strong sense of humor with Sci-Fi action (which is a bit too frantic this time around) and a genuine amount of heart. The thing that Gunn understands is that these characters are weirdos, even in a world of superpowered Avengers. The Guardians have always been kind of the misfit outliers in the Marvel Universe. They're a ragtag group of space jockeys, aliens, and creatures that have bonded to create a family of sorts over the course of the series. He understand what makes them unique, and their individual quirks. He also loves to throw these characters into increasingly bizarre worlds and situations, and see how things play out. That's what makes these movies so much fun to watch. By taking these minor comic book characters that most filmmakers wouldn't have a clue how to handle in a live action film, and fleshing them out and creating a genuine bond between them and with the audience, he's kind of writing a love letter to any lonely misfit or weirdo who might be watching, and letting them know that there are others out there just like them.
The plot this time around centers on Guardians member Rocket Raccoon (voice by Bradley Cooper), whose backstory gets substantially developed. We learn that he was part of an experiment led by the cruel High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), who is obsessed with creating a perfect world and society created solely out of anthropomorphic animals, which are created through twisted scientific experiments. Rocket was one of the early test cases who showed a high level of intelligence, and even inadvertently helped the process of creating peaceful humanoid creatures. Unfortunately, the High Evolutionary soon displayed his true nature, as his idea of a perfect society was built upon warped ethics. When Rocket watched some of his fellow animals get killed in the experiments, he escaped and vowed never to return. Now his former tormentor has tracked him down, and wants to use Rocket's brilliant mind to his twisted advantage.
Rocket becomes mortally wounded in the film's opening action sequence, so the remaining Guardians must track down his creators to find out how to save him. Again, the strength here is the bond that Gunn creates within his team. Team leader Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is forced to confront a variant of his former love, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who has no memory of him or their time together. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) is as powerful as ever, yet still possesses the intellect and personality of a selfish child at times. Gamora's sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) has evolved over the films, and is now showing different and softer sides to her character. Groot (voice by Vin Diesel) is still a creature of few words. And the alien Mantis (Pom Klementieff) gets to act as a supportive figure for Drax when others do not understand him. The script finds ample opportunity for these characters to play off each other, which is the film's greatest strength. These are not only interesting characters, but the way that the actors have grown into these roles and play off each other is as wonderful to watch as ever.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
is consistent with the quality of the previous entries, which is sometimes all you can ask for in a Summer Event movie. It knows what it's doing, and does so with so much expertise that it leaves you in awe at times. Yes, the movie does run a bit long at two and a half hours, but at least we're spending that time with characters we have grown to love. It's only when the action heated up that I started to feel the extended running time, as the action is frantic in typical Marvel Movie fashion, but not exactly stimulating in any real way. When the Guardians start fighting and performing impossible feats of combat, they start to look like special effects and not characters. These moments took me out of the film, but not enough that it hurts it. It knows that its strength lies in the interaction and the personalities of these characters, and it's wise to exploit it.
This is a movie that should please just about anyone who has been following these characters since 2014. It's the kind of lightweight, fun and fast-paced entertainment that Marvel excels at when they are at their best. It doesn't hold any real significance in their overall Universe, and it does not set up any major stakes on the whole. It's just one last fun ride with these great characters told by a filmmaker who clearly has a passion for them. I can only hope that passion continues to show through with the new roster of comic book heroes he's being placed in charge of.
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