Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 

James Gunn gives his superhero family saga a real heart

Pin It
  • Marvel Studios

It has to be at least a little bit awkward for Marvel Studios to watch James Gunn—the director of their big summer release, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3—spend a lot of his interview time these days talking about superheroes from a rival studio. Gunn was hired in 2022 to be the creative lead of DC Studios, attempting at long last to do with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et. al. what Marvel has successfully accomplished with its stable of costumed characters: create a wildly successful, cohesive cinematic universe where even the lesser-known characters can become headliners. And it's understandable why DC would want him, considering the unique cocktail of high-energy action, sincere feeling and goofy fun that Gunn has brought to his Guardians of the Galaxy films. Where the Marvel Machine appears to have chewed up and spit out many other auteurs to serve the corporate mission, Gunn's movies have largely remained, recognizably, Gunn movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has plenty on its storytelling plate, and it would have been a lot to ask for the movie to nail every one of those components. But Gunn has a vision for these characters and who they are to one another that provides a strong point of focus. The need for close connections—and the messiness of those connections—permeates the story, giving it an emotional tug even when the blockbuster bombast threatens to get in the way.

Some of that aforementioned messiness involves the ongoing fallout from the Thanos saga, as Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) continues to mourn the loss of his beloved Gamora (Zoe Saldaña), replaced by an alternate-timeline version who has no memory of their relationship. He has to rouse himself from his self-pity party, however, when the violent arrival of the super-being Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) leaves Rocket (Bradley Cooper) near death. Thus begins a quest for a particular whosiwhatsit MacGuffin—as comic-book movies are wont to have—that could save Rocket's life, with fellow Guardians Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Groot (Vin Diesel) all in pursuit.

Rocket's dire state provides the launching point for extended flashbacks to his origin story as one of the many cruel experiments of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). There we also meet other mechanical/animal hybrids, including an otter called Lylla (Linda Cardellini), and Gunn does a lovely job of capturing how these damaged creatures find comfort with one another.

And really, that's the crux of the GotG series as a whole, emphasizing a "found family" of characters otherwise left isolated and alone by their past traumas. Those family dynamics aren't necessarily sentimentalized, as the banter emphasizes the little ways they get on each other's nerves, or how much more it can hurt when those you care about belittle you. Gunn has generally shown a willingness to get creative with his characterizations—continued here by making the High Evolutionary more petty and high-strung than your typical "big bad," and giving Poulter's Warlock the persona of a gawky adolescent not yet in control of his immense power—and that includes finding great, often funny ways to express the push and pull between love and irritation.

Of course, a movie like this can't ignore the spectacle, and while Gunn's action sequences are inventive—most notably here in a late showdown between the Guardians and a gaggle of mutated animal guards—he also falls victim to that Marvel standby of "throw thousands of nameless creatures at our protagonists," plus a general over-plotting over the course of 150 minutes. While the formulaic elements are far less pervasive here than in something like, oh I don't know, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, when they do emerge, it just reminds you how much better this movie is when it feels distinctly like a Gunn/Guardians movie.

That includes the resolution, which—I'm not even gonna front, and spoiler-free—had me getting more than slightly verklempt. Part of Gunn's approach to the concept of family includes the realization that we need different things from them at different times, and that moving on to the next phase in life can be as necessary as it is painful. Somehow, through all the conventions of the comic-book movie era, James Gunn managed to give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a real heart, before he moved on to his own next phase. Marvel's loss is DC's gain.

Pin It


More by Scott Renshaw

Latest in Film Reviews

Readers also liked…

  • Power Plays

    Two satirical comedies explore manipulations and self-delusions by those with power.
    • Aug 31, 2022

© 2023 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation