When the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie was released in 2014, the characters were far from household names. Drawn from relatively obscure comics, the film seemed like a leap of faith for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then, the Guardians of the Galaxy have been some of the more beloved characters across the cinematic universe, from their solo movies to appearances in ensemble Avengers films.
Though “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” has flaws, it serves as a fitting send-off to the characters audiences have grown to love.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” follows the Guardians in the aftermath of “Avengers: Endgame,” with the same group plus an alternate version of Gamora (Zoe Saldaña). Although every character gets their time to shine, the movie at its heart is about Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the genetically modified raccoon. The plot follows the Guardians on a journey to face off against the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji), the main antagonist of the story and Rocket’s creator. Interlaced with the present-day conflict are flashbacks to Rocket’s origin story.
Maybe the highest compliment to give “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is that it feels similar to the franchise’s other classic installments. It once again has a masterfully curated soundtrack and trademark humor familiar to fans. Viewers can tell just how much the characters mean to both their actors and those involved in the movie’s production; even with a cast full of big names, everyone gives it their all for the director that brought them all together, James Gunn.
Gunn’s passion for the series is seen in every detail of the movie, from creative character designs for the anthropomorphic specimens created by the High Evolutionary to his refusal to use The Volume, the controversial new special effects technology that involves shooting scenes with virtual screens as backdrops. The Volume has been used recently in Marvel movies like “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which was heavily criticized for its poor visuals.
Where Vol. 3 differs from the other Guardians movies and the rest of the cinematic universe is its distinctly dark tone. Many recent Marvel movies have promised to be grittier and darker to appeal to the audience that has grown up with them but often failed to deliver. Rocket’s backstory is probably the highlight of the movie, but it’s tragic and at times gruesome as we learn more about just how abhorrent The High Evolutionary is. There’s a melancholic tone throughout the entire film as fans of the franchise get ready to say goodbye to their beloved characters for a while.
While the sadder theme works for the most part, at some points “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” feels like it’s reaching for low-hanging emotional fruit as it falls into some common tropes used to increase pathos. As a consequence, the story feels like it lacks stakes with time. The plot itself is not the most intricate and can feel like a video game, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint. Sometimes the one-liners don’t land — the humor works best when it flows naturally from such a familiar band of characters.
However, these faults can all be forgiven and forgotten as the audience is sucked into the world they love so much one last time. At the end of the day, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is a goodbye, both within the world of the film and to the fans of the series. It’s a fitting end to the Guardians as we know it and one of the better recent Marvel Cinematic Universe projects.